Report available: Summary of the Round-table Debate of 6 November 2013
To mark the arrival of the MERIL information platform on research infrastructures, the European Science Foundation convened a round-table discussion to examine the contribution that accurate information on the research infrastructure landscape can make to various areas of policy, and to consider how to enhance that contribution.
During its development phase the MERIL project engaged with a wide range of stakeholders in order to optimise the service it would ultimately provide to its user communities. Representatives of these stakeholder organisations and groups participated in the debate with a view to strengthening cooperation in the further development of the information base on research infrastructures in Europe.
The panel comprised Ana Arana Antelo, Head of Unit for Research Infrastructures at the European Commission; Hermann Grimmeiss (University of Lund); Bjørn Henrichsen (Director of the Norwegian Social Science Data Services); John Womersley (Chief Executive Officer of the Science and Technology Facilities Council UK and ESFRI Executive Board) and John Wood (Secretary General of the Association of Commonwealth Universities and Europe Co-Chair Research Data Alliance). The debate was introduced by Martin Hynes (Chief Executive ESF), moderated by Peter Fletcher (Science and Technology Facilities Council UK) and summed up by Peter Tindemans (Secretary General Euroscience).
About the Project
The MERIL project (Mapping of the European Research Infrastructure Landscape) is a pan-European effort to produce a comprehensive inventory of research infrastructures of major relevance in Europe across all scientific domains, accessible to the public through an interactive online portal. The project was initially funded for two years (2010-2012) by the European Commission under the coordination of the ESF, and is being continued in 2013 with the financial support of ESF’s member organisations. The Beta version of the portal is now live, and efforts in 2013 will be dedicated to consolidating and exploiting the database. Go to the MERIL portal.
The stakeholders at the origin of the MERIL project are the scientific community, EUROHORCs, ESF, European Commission, ESFRI, European Association of National Research Facilities (ERF), EIROforum, and Ministries. Most of these are represented in MERIL’s governance through its Steering Committee.
Research excellence requires high quality research infrastructures which not only support research but also lead its development in new directions and create an attractive environment for world-class researchers.
In the report 'EUROHORCs and ESF Vision on a Globally Competitive ERA and their Road Map for Actions' (2009), the ESF and the European Heads of Research Councils (EUROHORCs) highlighted the need to develop shared funding and exploitation of research infrastructures. In January 2010, the ESF launched a Member Organisation Forum to address this issue among its members and with other key players in Europe. The importance of Research Infrastructures as a corner stone of the European Research Area was once more endorsed in the 'Europe 2020 Flagship Initiative Innovation Union' communication of the European Commission (2010). There is consensus in Europe that the scientific community and policy-makers would benefit from a comprehensive inventory of the research infrastructures of Europe.
In July 2009 the European Commission issued a Call under FP7 aimed at updating an earlier European Portal on Research Infrastructures' Services. With the support of key stakeholders, ESF submitted a proposal to the European Commission in December 2009. The MERIL project was subsequently launched in October 2010 for a two-year period with a grant of 800 k€.
MERIL is a unique resource for the scientific community, policy-makers and other stakeholders such as research performing and research funding organisations. As the Member States of the European Union continue to develop a more coordinated and strategic approach to scientific research, it is important to have a clear picture of the research infrastructure landscape. A single source of information about all the principal research infrastructures throughout Europe will:
- Help the scientific community identify and gain access to a wide range of resources, services and facilities;
- Allow policy-makers to assess the state of research infrastructures throughout Europe to pinpoint gaps and possible duplications and make decisions about where best to direct funding;
- Encourage cross-border and cross-sector collaboration and more efficient use of resources within the European research community;
- Promote individual research infrastructures by raising their profile and fostering a greater sense of partnership across Europe;
- Contribute with this state-of-the-art analysis to the planning for future needs in cooperation with the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI).
Infrastructures in MERIL
Taking into account existing definitions from the European Commission and the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI), MERIL uses the following definition of Research Infrastructures:
A European Research Infrastructure is a facility or (virtual) platform that provides the scientific community with resources and services to conduct top-level research in their respective fields. These research infrastructures can be single-sited or distributed or an e-infrastructure, and can be part of a national or international network of facilities, or of interconnected scientific instrument networks.
To be eligible for inclusion in the MERIL database, an infrastructure should:
- offer top quality scientific and technological performance and support recognised as being of European relevance;
- offer access to scientific users from Europe and beyond through a transparent selection and admission process on the basis of scientific merit;
- have stable and effective management.
The capacity to generate impact and the provision of education and training are desirable features but not mandatory at present.
Research infrastructures included in MERIL have been evaluated through a national or European initiative on the basis of the commonly agreed definition and criteria and are considered by the scientific community and policy makers to be relevant to Europe. MERIL is thus a label of quality.
The MERIL portal will include categories and types of research infrastructures in all scientific domains.
The portal is designed to be continuously open to new entries that fit the definition and criteria.