Nordic ESFRI Day 2014

Nordic ESFRI Day 2014

Research infrastructure is one of NordForsk’s top priority areas, and on 7 May 2014 the organisation gathered together some of the leading Nordic participants in the field for input on and discussions about how to further develop Nordic cooperation in this area.

Nordic ESFRI day is designed to give stakeholders from science communities, funding agencies, and ministries a chance to discuss opportunities and challenges for Nordic ESFRI cooperation, such as how to increase the use of existing research infrastructures, how to promote the establishment of such infrastructures, and how to facilitate joint Nordic actions towards the international research infrastructure arena.

NordForsk wants to learn more about how it can help to achieve these goals and facilitate the processes. The ESFRI Roadmap (European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures) identifies new research infrastructures of pan-European relevance within all areas of science.

Nordic ESFRI day was followed by a meeting of the NordForsk High-Level Group on Research Infrastructure, whose task it is to offer strategic advice on precisely this topic.


Political support and project maturity are key in the coming ESRFI Roadmap

To provide new inspiration to Nordic stakeholders, the chair of the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI), Professor John Womersley, was invited to the meeting to speak about his experience and provide some insights into ESFRI’s ongoing update of the new roadmap to be issued in 2016. Professor Womersley emphasised two aspects that will be essential in determining whether or not projects are included on the coming roadmap.

John Womersley

- We want the new roadmap to be shorter than the current one, so the first thing we would like to do is to only put projects on the roadmap when they are ready.  We may decide that some of the ideas that come to us may be scientifically interesting, but if they are not ready, if the design studies have not been done or the support of the community is not there, then it’s not ready to go on the roadmap, the professor stated.


- The other thing we want to do, Professor Womersley continued, is to test the level of support politically and make sure that member state governments are serious about funding their share of the projects that come to the roadmap. We are going to assess the proposals independently, so this will give us the guarantee that what we are putting forward are ideas which are supported by the community, by the member states and which will have the appropriate readiness.


Nordic cooperation generates an international profile

NordForsk asked John Womersley what NordForsk needs to do to facilitate optimal Nordic ESFRI cooperation.

- ESFRI needs to make sure that there is a consensus developing around which projects are important, replied the professor. And the discussions that can be facilitated by organisations like NordForsk and between governments in this region help build that consensus. By organising internally you can develop support for projects that will come to the table, knowing that they are good, that they already have the support of five countries. It can serve as an example for others how to organise and achieve greater impact. Most of the countries NordForsk represent are quite small and have relatively small scientific communities, so they are not always going to have so much influence individually. But by working together the common position has much more impact, and has a far more serious profile internationally. We see other regions where those ideas are being developed. in Central and Eastern Europe for example, but they are not nearly as mature as they are here in the Nordic countries. So NordForsk is a good example of how other parts of Europe that have a common cultural heritage could work together much more closely.


Realistic ambitions

Both in his presentation and during his interview, the ESFRI chair stressed the importance of moderation and realistic goals in the projects submitted to ESFRI. But this in no way implies any compromise of ambitious research plans.


In your view, where does the greatest challenge in updating the roadmap lie?

- This is a difficult time to be proposing major new spending, so part of the message of the new roadmap is that we need to be realistic. But it is not impossible to be proposing new major science facilities. We should hold ourselves to a high standard and only put forward things that are excellent and have a lot of support. But that does not mean zero, because science is critical to our future and research is the way we develop ideas and maintain our future economic competitiveness. So we need to continue to invest heavily in science and by sharing, doing things together and investing in a common, coordinated way, we can all get much more impact out of the limited funding each of us has. So my key message is that we have to think responsibly about the future, which means focusing on our priorities, but we should not become scared of the future. We are building the future together. And we can be ambitious as long as we are not crazy, Professor Womersley concluded.


"Now we are going to talk the roadmap projects and their integration in the respective countries, such as the European Spallation Source in Lund. I think it is extremely constructive for NordForsk to continue bringing us together in this way, creating this kind of forum for discussion and exchange.


All the Nordic countries need to look to the future and think long-term about research and education.” Professor Juni Palmgren, member of the High-Level Group for Research Infrastructure.

High Level Group for Research Infrastructure 

When asked what NordForsk would like to see the High-Level Group achieve, Deputy Director Riitta Mustonen replied:

“NordForsk would like some strategic input on how to develop its role as a facilitator in the future to promote Nordic research infrastructure cooperation. The High Level Group has broad expertise in the field of research infrastructures, which enables the Group to provide us with meaningful and measured views. NordForsk’s board finds such advice useful when making decisions concerning research infrastructures or when working to formulate a new NordForsk strategy.”

What new input have you gotten from Nordic ESFRI day?

Riitta Mustonen

Many people emphasised the importance of communication and information sharing. There is a need to make science cases visible to policy-makers so that they can better understand the pivotal role that research infrastructure plays in promoting excellent research and effective research results. Decision-makers sometimes only see high costs. More should be done to increase awareness among decision-makers of how important high quality research infrastructures actually are to research performance, says Riitta Mustonen, and continues:

 - All Nordic countries have their national roadmaps, and the Nordic ESFRI delegates are very familiar with the ESFRI priorities in other Nordic countries. However, too little attention has been paid to what could happen to the research infrastructures that are on the national roadmaps but that fall below the funding threshold. There is room for discussion here: could the Nordic countries do something together, is it possible for us to join forces? 




Text: Linn Hoff Jensen

Photo: ESFRI and Terje Heiestad