Jan Hrušák, ex-ESFRI chair, reflects on his chairmanship and the importance of Research Infrastructures.
I took over the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) chairmanship from Giorgio Rossi at the beginning of 2019 with a vision that ESFRI is becoming a stronger global partner in the European research and innovation ecosystem. Though today, at the beginning of 2022, ESFRI is considered as a critical player in the European research infrastructures (RI) landscape, and its position within European Research Area (ERA) is widely renowned, ESFRI aims to cooperate and share its experience on research infrastructures globally, i.e. also with non-European stakeholders, and it sees ICRI as a well-suited platform for discussing the rather complex role of RIs from and in an international perspective.
Building on extensive discussions and its 20 years’ experience, ESFRI formulated its vision in a document called ESFRI WHITE PAPER 2020 – Making Science Happen – A New Ambition for Research Infrastructures in European Research Area. This vision develops the concept of a robust, vertically and horizontally interconnected ecosystem of RIs, which, based on the highest scientific standards, is deeply rooted in the society and provides a basis for sustainable economic growth. This RI ecosystem relies on existing top level RIs, but it includes all existing RIs forming a consolidated RI landscape and jointly serving researchers’ needs across scientific disciplines. This RI ecosystem forms not only the backbone of science but is a part of the critical infrastructure safeguarding our societal wellbeing, similarly to energy networks or transport infrastructure. It provides the foundation for science-based solutions that sizably strengthen our capability to tackle global challenges, react in preventing any kind of global threats, and contribute to overall societal resilience.
The ESFRI White paper is not just an outlook listing the challenges for ESFRI, it is a comprehensive list of messages of uttermost importance for the development of the upper mentioned RIs ecosystem, including its governance at different levels. In addition, it is ESFRI`s contribution to the ERA policy discussion aiming to further strengthen Europe’s capacity to maintain a healthy society and sustainable economy. Despite its relative brevity, the White Paper brings some key messages of global relevance (such as for long-term sustainability of RIs or trans-national access to RIs areas), including their implementation ideas, which are worth to be further explored in the ICRI discussions.
Though the concept of the integrated RI ecosystem was formulated well before the crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic has verified it and highlighted the role of RIs in emergency prevention and resilience building.
From the European perspective, another ESFRI’s noteworthy achievement is undoubtedly ESFRI Roadmap 2021, which is already the 6th edition of a document that has been influencing the European and national RIs strategies, policies and funding since 2006. The ESFRI Roadmap is the most comprehensive document on RIs globally, and it provides a coherent and strategic view of Europe`s RIs. This 2021 Roadmap also demonstrates the persisting willingness of national governments to substantially invest in improving the RIs capacities in Europe (ESFRI Roadmap 2021 brings 11 new RI projects) as an essential element of our long-term scientific sovereignty and crisis preparedness. To deliver this ESFRI Roadmap update in time by the end of 2021 took immense effort and work of more than 250 individuals from all over Europe despite the COVID-19 pandemic. ESFRI Roadmap is a vivid demonstration of the high merit of potential for pan-European and trans-national collaboration. Again a topic of high relevance to be explored at ICRI 2022.
When I started to chair the ESFRI, no one assumed that the biggest challenge for ESFRI and the whole RI landscape would be the unexpected outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. This pandemic has severely affected the entire human society. Nevertheless, ESFRI and the entire RI ecosystem has shown immense strength in dealing with all the issues it brought. The fast and spontaneous response of RIs who opened and aligned their services to provide support to COVID-19 related research activities was overwhelming. ESFRI has set up a dedicated website that aggregated information about the various services related to COVID-19 offered by RIs at European and national levels. Though the concept of the integrated RI ecosystem was formulated well before the crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic has verified it and highlighted the role of RIs in emergency prevention and resilience building.
Despite the crucial role of RIs for the advancement of scientific excellence and their absolute importance for the development of many scientific disciplines, RIs are an indispensable part of the critical infrastructure in national economies, deeply rooted in the region, and providing impetus for the economy of scale.
Three years ago, ESFRI initiated a new era in communication with the various RI stakeholders by the series of workshops in London and, in particular, one held in La Palma, Canary Islands. This effort has matured in the new ESFRI communication strategy with the Open sessions, the Stakeholder platform, and the Stakeholder forum as new tools. The ambition of this newly established platform is to instigate an open dialogue among the different European RI stakeholders in order to reinforce the position of RIs as an essential pillar of the ERA. The closer engagement of stakeholders in ESFRI policy discussions also brings new incentives and empowers ESFRI`s capacity in providing merit-based policy advice.
With all the above mentioned, I firmly believe that RIs are the kernel not only of the research and innovation system, but their outreach goes much further. Despite the crucial role of RIs for the advancement of scientific excellence and their absolute importance for the development of many scientific disciplines, RIs are an indispensable part of the critical infrastructure in national economies, deeply rooted in the region, and providing impetus for the economy of scale. The role of RIs in and for sustainable growth of our economies, for the healthy development and increased resilience of our society, for global societal welfare is not yet fully understood. The vision ESFRI has formulated and helps to implement, namely supporting excellent science with impact through the support of a healthy, interconnected ecosystem of RIs, is a powerful concept that did not fully enfold yet, and it remains one of the biggest challenges. But I am confident that ESFRI, building its long-term experience and expertise, will handle it successfully. Continuous work in creating and maintaining of healthy and competitive RI ecosystem is ESFRI’s vital task.