Part 1
Strategy Report

Lessons Learnt

The ESFRI Roadmap updates constitute an important strategic framework for the development of RIs of pan-European relevance and thus of the ERA as a whole. Continuous assessment and adjustment of its methodology enables ESFRI to fulfil its strategic role, especially in view of upcoming political needs, challenges facing RIs, such as Long-Term Sustainability and strengthening their impact, as well as new mandates that the Competitiveness Council entrusted with ESFRI.

Preserving and further developing ESFRI’s strategic mission remains essential for full utilization of the ESFRI advisory capacity. As the portfolio of ESFRI RIs becomes richer and more comprehensive, it is important to capture evolving trends and focus on initiatives of strategic importance, with high added value and significant potential to develop unique resources and further improve services for European science and innovation.

To increase the strategic value of the Roadmap, ESFRI should consider prolonging its update cycle. This would facilitate the preparation of mature proposals based on comprehensive studies of the RI ecosystem and, thus, contribute to the Long-Term Sustainability of RIs and the most effective use of resources. A substantial effort during the next ESFRI Roadmap cycle should be made to identify the existing gaps in view of long-term scientific development and broader policy goals, as well as to identify the most effective ways to address these gaps.

At operational level, further emphasis should be put on further harmonization of the evaluation process at all evaluation stages (ex ante, ad interim as well as ex post). Particular attention must be paid to interdisciplinary projects that are by nature difficult to be appropriately assessed and require greater effort and engagement of a broader range of experts from different fields.

The current evaluation process was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, not just in prolonging the submission period but also in using solely virtual platforms for evaluation meetings. In some cases, the latter was surprisingly beneficial, especially regarding the organization of the project hearings, which were very efficient and saved both time and costs. For the next Roadmap cycle, virtual platform meetings for project hearings and possibly Working Group meetings could be used again. However, using virtual platforms was not always appropriate for meetings involving intensive discussions.

The ESFRI Landscape Analysis is a key part of the Roadmap. The SWGs (including additional experts) have, with all the scientific competence and links to research communities, an increased participation in the drafting of the document. The direct exchange with the RIs is also a positive element of the drafting process and its potential could be further explored when designing the next Roadmap concept. The next LA will be decoupled from the Roadmap and its strategic role will be strengthened. It is clear that a specific and more detailed methodology based on a solid analytical framework must be developed. The process will also include interactions with main stakeholders including the main user communities.

Already the Roadmap 2016 was conceived with RI sustainability in mind: a higher level of maturity and official political support by MS/AC has been set as eligibility criterion, which has been strengthened in the Roadmap 2018. The ten-year term limit of ‘residency’ for a Project on the Roadmap was introduced already in 2018 and we think that it is still valid considering that new Projects have better grounding. However, in case of projects entered in the roadmap before 2016 or for possible future projects as in case of very large RIs to be built, this limit could be very difficult to be met. ESFRI will therefore investigate those critical cases and, if necessary, will define specific guideines when exceptions to this ten-year rule could be adopted.

The Evolving Role of RIs

Pan-European RIs have become a pillar of the ERA. Both the ERA concept and the RIs ecosystem vision intend to serve and interconnect research and researchers throughout Europe and globally. Investments in RIs have been seen mainly as support to research as they meet the demand of the scientific community for state-of-the-art resources, services and data. However, they are also centres of knowledge transfer to the society and the economy, as well as play an important role in training of researchers and fostering science literacy. RIs have now evolved into an interconnected and interoperable ecosystem, which goes beyond the area of the R&I domain. RIs are kernels of regional development in many domains of economy, they have significant impact on the cultural and societal environment of the region where they are built and show strong outreach to many sectoral policies and agendas.

Responding to the increased emphasis on environmental, social and economic challenges, Europe envisions stronger contributions of R&I activities to the EU's wider policy objectives. However, additional efforts to reinforce the capacity of European research are needed in order to develop science-based solutions that can effectively lead the economic, social and environmental transitions and improve the everyday life of European citizens.

European RIs are a key element to make this happen. ESFRI presented its vision on how RIs can help meeting the challenges of the society, increase societal resilience and contribute to the new ERA in its White Paper Making Science Happen, a new ambition for Research Infrastructures in the European Research AreaESFRI White Paper: Making Science Happen, a new ambition for Research Infrastructures in the European Research Area. March, 2020

Making Science Happen

Together and in parallel with the process to revitalize the ERA, ESFRI launched in 2018 a comprehensive reflection process on the future of RIs in the ERA. This included an internal reflection on a set of agreed topics as well as an exchange with RIs, thematic clusters and other stakeholders. This led to the publication of the ESFRI White Paper Making Science Happen, a new ambition for Research Infrastructures in the European Research AreaESFRI White Paper: Making Science Happen, a new ambition for Research Infrastructures in the European Research Area. March, 2020
in 2020. The conception of the ESFRI White Paper, therefore, started a new way of ESFRI engagement with key stakeholders, including the scientific community at large. Thus, the White Paper represents ESFRI’s contribution to a broader policy discussion on R&I in Europe and draws a new ambition for RIs, shared by governments and the scientific community.

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the White Paper was distributed only electronically and presented at the online conference of the Croatian Presidency European Research Infrastructures for a smarter futureEuropean Research Infrastructures for a smarter future Conference, May 2020
on 15th May 2020. This event had an attendance of 600-850 participants throughout the day and hosted a broad range of stakeholders, including key policy makers at European and national level. The conference was live-streamed and the resulting videos are available in ESFRI YouTube channelEuropean Research Infrastructures for a smarter future Conference – Youtube channel, May 2020
, while the official Conference ConclusionsEuropean Research Infrastructures for a smarter future Conference – Conclusions, May 2020
were prepared by the Croatian Presidency.

Focusing on future orientation and perspective, ESFRI, with its White Paper, sends out important policy messages to policy actors, ESFRI RIs, and ESFRI itself. The implementation of the key messages and actions will be an important part of the ESFRI activities post-2021.

The RIs And Fair Open Data

By providing services to a very broad variety of users, RIs create a shared and collaborative RI ecosystem, which has been shaping big science for decades. To facilitate this process, ESFRI fosters the definition, implementation and further development of advanced solutions for the effective provision and use of high-quality scientific data as practiced by ESFRI RIs and horizontal e-Infrastructures. A robust interdisciplinary data environment will be developed by using data analysis support services to exploit the most advanced and documented datasets.

On 20th February 2017, the Council of the EU approved ESFRI recommendation on coordination of Member States' investment strategies in e-Infrastructures recognizing ESFRI as a Strategy hub of fundersOutcome of the 3519th Meeting of the Council of the European Union, 20 February 2017, Brussels

ESFRI RIs are unique in ensuring robust quality control on scientific data to be opened. ESFRI evaluates, selects, monitors and reviews its RIs with emphasis on their e-Infrastructure component as an element for excellent science and excellent data services to the broadest community. As a result, ESFRI RIs are the key pillars of research and at the forefront of establishing quality checks on FAIRness of data and data management plans accepted by the relevant user communities. In general, they already implemented FAIR and Reproducibility criteria for the Data and operate open access portals. Finally, they safeguard data quality in all domains of science, in monitoring their persistence and integrity and in releasing them according to the EOSC rules and standards as robust data products and services.

Therefore, thematic RIs are an indispensable and even a driving element of the EOSC data management chain. Five ESFRI science cluster projects, ENVRI-FAIRENVRI-FAIR
, EOSC-LifeEOSC-Life, ESCAPEESCAPE | The European Science Cluster of Astronomy
, PaNOSCThe Photon and Neutron Open Science Cloud – PaNOSC
, and SSHOCSocial Sciences & Humanities Open Cloud (SSHOC)
were launched in 2019, providing a focus for various ESFRI RIs to connect to the EOSC. The overarching goal is to advance the FAIRness of digital assets, in particular research data and related services, and to deliver an open access platform for interdisciplinary research data utilizing the EOSC. They also aim at developing links between the concerned ESFRI RIs and EOSC, creating an open, digital and collaborative space to manage and integrate diverse data and metadata.

In addition, some thematic consortia have in their remits the task to support the FAIRness of data and the establishment of links between EOSC and their users. For instance, the League of advanced European Neutron Sources (LENS)League of advanced European Neutron Sources (LENS)
and the League of European Accelerator-based Photon Sources (LEAPS)League of European Accelerator-based Photon (LEAPS)
aim to improve the cooperation of various communities and enhance user facilities in Europe. These diverse ESFRI RI communities lead efforts to increase reproducibility of the data and data quality management.

The ESFRI EOSC Task Force helps ESFRI tackle the EOSC issues, provide a platform for exchange of information and organise exchanges between ESFRI and EOSC on topics of mutual interest. These exchanges, taking form of three dedicated workshops in 20191st ESFRI RIs and EOSC Workshop – London, January 2019
ESFRI Workshop on the Future of Research Infrastructures in the European Research Area – La Palma, November 2019
and 2020 2nd ESFRI RIs-EOSC Workshop "Research Infrastructures shaping EOSC" goes digital, October 2020
pointed to the need for improving the exchange between ESFRI, RIs and EOSC stakeholders while actively and effectively engaging with EOSC governance bodies as well as highlighted the need to define a position, which reflects the unique perspective of this important sector of the research community and to develop a long-term view of ESFRI’s role in engaging with the EOSC post-implementation.

They also effectively demonstrated that the RI community has been contributing to high-quality data and to an open science culture change and therefore its involvement is key for EOSC development and its strong participation in the EOSC governance is required.

RIs and The COVID-19 Response

COVID-19 represents the greatest threat to global public health and economies in the 21st century. The pandemic has been having a growing economic and social impact and highlighted global interdependence on many different levels. To achieve a new normal requires a coordinated, coherent and cohesive, effective and sustainable response. The opportunities provided by European RIs, which have the capacity to act in a coordinated manner, are crucial in battling the pandemics, as coordination is an important prerequisite for stepping up global cooperation, which is essential to tackle COVID-19 related issues.

ESFRI encourages European scientists and health professionals to work together to accelerate the research and development process to fight the COVID-19 pandemic as well as to shape the post-COVID-19 health recovery and lay the foundations for a more resilient landscape to achieve the goals of sustainable development. It is important to highlight that investments in adequate and comprehensive pandemic preparedness are essential in the field of health research as well as environment, energy, social-economic, and other future critical issues.

ESFRI believes that the opportunities provided by European RIs to support the science-led response to the COVID-19 outbreak are extremely important. ESFRI is helping the scientific community by aggregating information about dedicated services offered by RIs and communicating all relevant actions as broadly as possible. To this end, ESFRI has created a dedicated webpage RIs against COVID-19 pandemicRIs against COVID-19 pandemic
that lists and provides quick links to the information gathered. The many initiatives presented there illustrate the huge mobilisation and capacities of the European RIs. As an example, three medical RIs: the European Research Infrastructure for Translational Medicine (EATRIS ERIC), the European Clinical Research Infrastructure Network (ECRIN ERIC), and the European Research Infrastructure for biobanking (BBMRI ERIC) joined forces under the umbrella of the Alliance of Medical Research Infrastructures (AMRI)Alliance of Medical Research Infrastructures
 to provide joint COVID-19 targeted services. Raising public awareness about the RIs working on COVID response has also been very important to promote the use of existing opportunities. Croatian Presidency Conference European Research Infrastructures for a smarter future13European Research Infrastructures for a smarter future Conference, May 2020
in May 2020 was the first and quick response to the current crisis and provided an opportunity to discuss the contribution of RIs in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. ESFRI took an active part in this conference, as well as in other international events, which followed during 2020-2021, like the ICRI conference or OECD workshops. The first ESFRI Open Session held during the ESFRI Forum in March 2021 also had a particular focus on the response to the COVID-19 of selected RIs.

All these initiatives supported by ESFRI since the beginning of the pandemic feed into a larger set of coordinated R&I actions at EU level presented in the ERAvsCorona Action PlanERAvsCorona Action Plan, April 2020
. The Action Plan sets out ten key measures to coordinate, share, and increase support for R&I, in line with the objectives and tools of the ERA. In particular, for RIs, fundsEuropean Research Area corona platform
were added and re-oriented to support RI projects providing services and activities in response to the Coronavirus outbreak.

Two priority actions out of the ten are addressing directly RIs and are strongly supported by ESFRI.

Access to Research Infrastructures. The availability of the services provided by RIs and of the data they hold is vital for researchers working on the coronavirus. New services – including High-Performance Computing and Artificial Intelligence – and datasets are being brought on stream and it is important to match supply and demand across borders.

Research data sharing platform. This action aimed to establish a European COVID-19 Data Platform for SARS-CoV-2 Covid-19 Data Portal
 and corona-virus-related information exchange, connected to the European Open Science CloudEuropean COVID-19 Data Platform
. It allows quick sharing of research data and results to accelerate discovery.

The COVID-19 pandemic increased the demand for access to timely, relevant, and quality data. This demand has been driven by several needs: taking informed policy actions quickly, improving communication on the current state of play, carrying out scientific analysis of a dynamic threat, understanding its social and economic impact, and enabling civil society oversight and reporting. The COVID-19 Fast Response Service procedure was established to coordinate and accelerate the access to academic facilities, services, and resources.

EMBL-EBI, which hosts the ELIXIR RI, is an example of the RI gathering and sharing data resources as they become available EMBL-EBI launches COVID-19 Data Portal
. The relevant data hosted at EMBL-EBI on the Pathogen Portal are available for further research activities. This includes sequences of outbreak isolates and records relating to coronavirus biology. Furthermore, data submitted to the European Nucleotide Archive (ENA) are available as well. ELIXIR, the ESFRI RIs for life science data, provides a range of services and resources, that can be used by researchers and consortia working on SARS-CoV-2 research via ELIXIR NodesELIXIR support to COVID-19 research
. ELIXIR has also initiated new community-driven initiatives (e.g. Hackathons) that help to open up and link COVID-19 data.

ESFRI Roadmap 2021 dedicates an important part of the Landscape Analysis to the role of RIs in COVID crisis, their resilience and capacities in addressing future challenges. RIs have faced severe difficulties from the COVID crisis: they had difficulties working in the traditional way and had to adapt rapidly in providing access to users. In the face of the pandemic, RIs fast-tracked access for urgent health projects and had to put many other experiments on hold. As travel restrictions and lockdowns hit, RIs had to invent new ways of carrying out essential work safely, largely introduced remote access schemes and allowed researchers to send in samples for those projects that do not require their physical presence in the infrastructure. Acknowledging that these new ways of working give the RIs and scientists more flexibility, these new methods could be extended beyond the pandemic.