Optimising the Operation and Use of National Research Infrastructures
OECD Science, Technology and Industry Policy Papers
August 2020 No. 91
Most research infrastructures (RIs) are funded, managed and operated at a national or federal level, and provide services mostly to national research communities. There is demand for specific analysis of how to optimise the operation of these national research infrastructures. This is in a context where research budgets are limited and governments and funding agencies are confronted with the challenge of supporting increasingly large and complex RI portfolios.
RIs are extremely diverse and good practices and policies may not necessarily apply to all RI types. The study focused on RIs that provide access to their equipment/data/resources to external users outside their host institution. Underlying data/computing infrastructure, which connect and provide access to RI data, are included as well as data RIs that provide services to users.
This policy report presents a generic framework for improving the use and operation of national RIs. This includes a set of options which take into account the diversity of national contexts and of RIs. It is based on the results from a study that was structured to address two complementary areas: Managing portfolios of RIs and Optimising the user-base.
The activity was co-organised by the OECD Global Science Forum and Science Europe. It was supervised by an international Expert Group (EG) nominated by both organisations chaired by Dr Catherine Ewart (UKRI, United Kingdom). The EG conducted two surveys and held two international workshops. One survey was conducted among funders and decision-makers and the other among RI managers. A workshop in London discussed the initial findings from the surveys, and a second one in Seoul discussed the emerging recommendations.
In response to the wide range of inputs received, the lessons learned were synthesised into a “Guiding Model” which summarises the key elements of an effective national RI portfolio management system. These are:
- A review or road-mapping process collecting bottom up and top down inputs to create a forward plan for RI needs in the context of the national Research and Innovation strategies;
- A means to act upon the forward looking plan and allocate resources, for capital and operations, to ensure that the highest priority RIs are funded;
- Processes to gather inputs from the research community, RI operators and other stakeholders in terms of research, data and operational needs;
- A management process that considers the whole portfolio of new and existing RIs together;
- A process that encourages cooperation between RIs and allows competition to ensure the highest priority facilities are supported or selected;
- The stimulation of international networking for national RIs, and embedding international RI options alongside national RI options to find the best solutions to deliver the research requirements of the national community;
- Appropriate means to monitor the performance of national and international RIs on an ongoing basis;
- A mechanism to identify, in good time, facilities that can be closed or divested to other managers;
- Transparency so that the criteria and processes for deciding on investment are clear to RI operators.
Optimising the User Base
Several major challenges emerge when considering user-base optimisation from an RI manager perspective. These challenges were analysed to develop a “Guiding Model” that recommends key elements that should be considered by RI managers with regards to optimising the user-base of national RIs. These elements are:
- The appropriate monitoring of RI users to inform strategies for the optimisation and management of user bases.
- Consideration of the variety of options to optimise the use potential of RIs, and the strategic evaluation of the benefits and risks of each.
- The provision and communication of clear and transparent mechanisms for accessing RIs, and consideration of how to extend access to new users/communities.
- The facilitation of access to data generated or managed by RIs, and the promotion of collaboration between RIs to establish and standardise transparent data policies.
- The promotion of data sharing by RI users and the establishment of appropriate mechanisms to monitor the secondary use of data generated or managed by RIs.
- The provision of ‘free-from-costs’ access for merit-based academic use, wherever this is possible, and the establishment of clear and transparent pricing policies for all potential users.
- Consideration of the resources devoted to users, both from a financial and personnel perspective, and the engagement of RI funders/decision makers to increase funding for extended support services, where beneficial.
Conclusions and Recommendations
This work has identified a wide range of management practices, which impact on the optimisation of the operation and use of national research infrastructures. The diversity of national systems and RI operation approaches means that there is no single model to suit every country or RI, but some key factors or guiding principles have been identified ,which it is hoped will be useful to policy makers, funders and managers interested in improving or optimising their RI portfolios and user bases. These principles have been brought together into two Guiding Models (see chapter 5) to help policy makers, funders and RI managers.
- RI portfolio managers and RI managers should assess their portfolio management and user base approaches against the principles contained within each of the Guiding Models (see chapter 5) to aid the development of their management processes.
- RI portfolio managers and RI managers who have completed their assessments, should work with peers at national and international level to exchange experiences in using the Guiding Models. This can provide a basis for the creation of networks focused on continuous improvement and mutual learning. Funders and policy makers should consider ways of encouraging and providing support for the establishment of such networks.
- RI portfolio managers and RI managers should work together to reach agreement on standards and definitions for RI management and access including types of RIs and Users. They should agree the minimum information to be made publicly available on-line about RIs and the facilities, resources, and support that they offer.
- RI portfolio managers and RI managers should consider the relevance of the good practice examples presented in this report for their own RIs, and consider adopting similar approaches, where appropriate, within their own national contexts.
© OECD / Science Europe (2020)