A discussion on the future form of ESFRI launched in London

London, January 31, 2019 – A workshop named “ESFRI: Future Directions” took place on January 31, 2019 at London’s Grange Holborn Hotel. During the workshop ESFRI delegates from EU Member States and Associated Countries discussed the future directions of ESFRI in the strategy planning and monitoring of European research infrastructures. Ideas and proposals for further development of ESFRI will be debated by delegates throughout the year 2019, and the discussion will culminate in a so-called “White Paper” that will serve as an input for European Research Area development talks after 2020.

ESFRI – European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures – was set up in 2002 by the EU Competitiveness Council decision and its main task is to mediate the debate on current development in the field of research infrastructures´ policy-making in Europe. ESFRI´s mandate was extended in 2004 by elaboration of ESFRI Roadmap, a strategic document aimed at enhancing Europe´s competitiveness by constructing European research infrastructures, facilities that exceed the capabilities of individual European Union countries by their financial or scientific complexity. ESFRI Roadmaps have developed over the years (they were released in 2006, 2008, 2010, 2016 and 2018), and today they serves as a strategy document that transcends the context of development of individual scientific disciplines due to the emphasis on addressing socially relevant challenges and synergies.

A major challenge for ESFRI is, in addition to preparing and issuing Roadmaps of European research infrastructures, also monitoring of research infrastructures already listed on ESFRI Roadmap. The EU Competitiveness Council also authorized ESFRI to formulate an e-Infrastructure’s strategy (data research infrastructures and EOSC initiative – European Open Science Cloud) and document about the long-term sustainability of research infrastructures (in addition to monitoring national roadmapping and financial tools analysis included). ESFRI´s portfolio of activities supported by this and several other EU Competitiveness Council mandates also brings new demands on the interdisciplinary approach and access to ESFRI functioning itself. From this initiative the ESFRI delegates, the Chairs of ESFRI Strategy Working Groups and the representatives of European Commission met in London to discuss the ESFRI main objectives, core values, activities and topics of consolidating the landscape of research infrastructures, the vision of ESFRI and the development of ESFRI Roadmap in the mid-term outlook.

Are there any key areas relevant to research infrastructures that are not affected by ESFRI activities? How should ESFRI further develop its activities? These are just a few selected questions related to the strategic role of ESFRI. The relevance of ESFRI activities for national research, development and innovation policies or the role of ESFRI outside the European Union were discussed too. On the topic related to ESFRI role in the consolidation of landscape of research infrastructures, delegates addressed ESFRI´s tasks during the “life cycle” of research infrastructures and ESFRI as an incubator of research infrastructures.

When discussing ESFRI´s vision, there were questions like whether the current structure and ESFRI organisation is effective, whether the current frequency of meetings and the composition of forum are sufficient, or whether the current relationship with the European Commission is optimal. The overlays of ESFRI with the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation Horizon 2020 belong among the essential topics as well. In the last session, the discussion focused on the development of ESFRI Roadmap, its long-term vision and the design of new Roadmap in 2021. The evaluation criteria and the roles of Strategy Working Groups that regularly analyse scientific aspects in the areas of energy, social and cultural innovation, physical sciences, data infrastructures, health and food and environmental sciences, were discussed too. An issue is also larger involvement of independent external evaluators during the assessment of European research infrastructures listed on ESFRI Roadmap.

Prior to the formulation of the “White Paper” on ESFRI´s further direction, another workshop will take place in the fall of 2019 on this topic.