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Research Infrastructures (RIs) in the context of the RIS process

As the economic, technological and social challenges of creating national and regional competitiveness have become increasingly difficult to address in a valuable way, growth-friendly factors like research infrastructure need to be exploited in their full capacity and capabilities.Research infrastructure, along with the human capital concentrated around it, is recognised as a prerequisite for excellence in science, an enabler for industrial application of scientific results and a way to address the weaknesses in science and innovation policy coordination and networking at the European and region level.

Written by Teodora Georgieva

Reviewed by David Walburn


The concept

How to implement it?

Step in the RIS process

What can be expected?

A quote


Experts' comments


The concept

Research infrastructure is of prime importance for bringing into practice of the objectives of EU policy in the field of science, technology and innovation. RI projects have a large proportion of EU funds on the development of scientific and innovation potential. Given its importance, RI is made a priority in various EU funding instruments (mostly through framework programmes), policy documents (ESPRIT, Lisbon Strategy, ERIC, Europe 2020, etc.) and strategic roadmaps (OECD provided a Report on roadmapping of large research infrastructures where 20 roadmap exercises are mentioned). The common aim of these European initiatives is to boost construction and operation of world-class RIs, optimise the exploitation of existing research assets at a pan-European level, balance the research-innovation objectives in a short- and long-term, and augment the socio-economic impact as a result of RI projects governance.

The overwhelming majority of the later ERA related documents describe research infrastructure in a way corresponding with the definition given to the need of the Community Framework Programme for research and technological development, namely “facilities, resources or services that are needed by the research community to conduct research in all scientific and technological fields, including: major equipment or set of instruments used for research purposes, knowledge-based resources, enabling ICT-based infrastructures and any other entity of a unique nature that is used for scientific research along with associated human resources”.


How to implement it?

Within the European database 625 unique Research Infrastructures are registered. Most of them (almost 76%) are low-scale infrastructures (273 of them are built with an initial investment fewer than 20 million of euro, and 123 are built with an initial investment in a range between 20 and 50 million of euro). The large-scale infrastructures (with an initial investment in a range between 250 and 500 million of euro) account for just over 4%. Approximately 74% of RIs are single-sited. Providers of only virtual services are 3% of facilities, but a great number of single-sited and distributed RIs ensure virtual access to a part of their products/services at a contractual base.

The largest group of RIs is in the field of Environment, Marine and Earth Sciences (24%), followed by Material Sciences, Chemistry and Nanotechnologies (15%) and Life Sciences (14%). Within the different scientific domains the greatest internal dispersion in terms of scale exists in the field of Socio-economic Sciences where 97% of RIs are built with an initial investment fewer than 50 million of euro. There is a lack of large-scale RIs related to this scientific field. The most balanced in terms of scale is the group of RIs in the field of Energy.

The understanding of the nature of the complexity associated with RIs projects is an important precondition for their effective management. The high level of complexity embedded in all research infrastructure projects (not only large-scale ones) derives from sources which are difficult to be included in the standard project management framework because of their creative nature (i.e. impossible to foresee in terms of the expected results), variability in regard to the set and number of stakeholders engaged at the construction and post-construction phase when the research infrastructure is under use (science communities from different countries and with different culture), and multi-functionality which creates real obstacles associated to the process of monitoring, measuring and controlling the outcomes.

RIs projects have primarily a non-for-profit orientation. This is due to the profile of the stakeholders involved (researchers, research institutions, universities, intermediaries, etc.), the activities implemented by using RIs (scientific research, ideas generation, technology development; technical expertise, etc.), and the objectives pursued (concerning sustainable development in its main dimensions: societal, economic and environmental, in a long-term prospective).

Moreover, the financial resources invested in research infrastructures are part of the EU budget accumulated by member states’ shares and do not originate from private sources. Consequently, they are used in a way allowing the contemporary challenges at EU and regional level to be addressed and/or a wider access to the effects gained to be ensured.

An extremely high level of networking and virtuality is associated with RIs projects. It is a result of the fact the science community, which is the main stakeholder in the projects, comprise researchers, research centres and universities located worldwide and using primarily remote access to research facilities. Information and communication technologies and the dynamic trends for their development are, of course, the preconditions which make this linkage possible.

Networking is essential for generating and transferring ideas, knowledge and technologies and creates an environment suitable for embodying them into innovative processes and products. Also, networking justifies the creation of large-scale costly infrastructure which none of the stakeholders can afford and use independently in an effective way.


Step in the RIS process

1. Analysis of the regional context and potential for innovation

3. Elaboration of an overall vision for the future of the region

4. Identification of priorities


What can be expected?

  • Sectoral value chains
  • Innovation hubs
  • Regional/sectoral networks
  • Innovation clusters


A quote

"Research infrastructure is of crucial importance for achieving scientific breakthroughs, technology advancement and knowledge transfer and as such it is a key milestone in the European research agenda and innovation policy. That is why RI is put at the heart of the “knowledge triangle” as a facilitator of the network between research, education and innovation." from "A vision for strengthening world-class research infrastructure in the ERA", Report of the Expert Group in Research Infrastructure, European Commission, DG Research, available at: http://ec.europa.eu/research/infrastructures/pdf/era_100216.pdf




Mrs Teodora Georgieva


Dr. Teodora Georgieva has over 15 year experience in developing and implementing strategic and programme documents at national, regional and business levels in the field of innovation, technology transfer and life-long learning. Relevant experience includes: National Science Scoreboard of Bulgaria; Innovation Promotion Law; Megaprojects in the field of Research Infrastructure; ERAWATCH Baseload Inventory; Annual Innovation.BG reports; Regional Innovation Strategy for the South-West region of Bulgaria; Annual Reports on the Bulgarian National Innovation Policy. She is a member of the Expert Council on Innovation at ARC Fund – an independent advisory group to the national innovation policy and development of the innovation potential. Dr. Georgieva holds a PhD in the field of innovation management. Currently she is a Professor in Innovation, Project and Strategic Management and a vice rector at the International Business School in Botevgrad, Bulgaria. She is IRCA / IATCA Certified Expert and Lead Auditor of QMS.



Expert's comments

The capacity to engage the scientific and research potential of a region to maximize its competitiveness and commercial success through innovation, clearly can make a vital contribution to an economic development strategy. The analysis of the Europe-wide potential is clearly set out in the paper.

However, there is a puzzling emphasis on the role of the public sector in the paper. Whilst it is clear that public policy and resourcing are the key drivers in the model described, alongside public institutions such as universities and the academics and researchers employed by them, there seems also to be an implication that the process described is in some way detached from the commercial/private sector. Research infrastructures may lack direct private sector participation, but active engagement with the private sector is vital if full value is to be derived from the process. This issue needs some clarification.

First, it is important to make the point that “not for profit” organisations within the economic development field can most certainly have stakeholders from the private sector. Indeed a mix of the two is often the pattern. There are numerous examples of such organisations in Europe, and especially in the United States, where public and private sectors come together to achieve outcomes which are attractive to each.

Second, perhaps we should question the assumption that research institutions and universities should not be partnered with private sector investors to achieve commercial outcomes. There has certainly been an attitude in some countries of the EU that academics and universities should not be engaged in seeking commercial gain from their research activities – or of pursuing research with the primary object of making money.

We need to remember that successful public policy in economic development –“creating national and regional competitiveness” as stated in this paper – is ultimately all about private sector firms doing business more profitably and on a greater scale to create more wealth and employment.  Research infrastructures as described in this paper cannot maximize their contribution to regional competitiveness if they try to operate in some sort of parallel universe. The full participation of the private sector is essential if the objectives of public policy are to be realised to the full. This would include helping to agree objectives, guiding the direction of research, providing finance or helping to attract investment, having direct involvement in the commercialisation process and bringing new developments to market.

The suggestion is that the priority of achieving greater private sector involvement in research infrastructures should be added to the research infrastructure model described.  


Mr David Walburn

After a career in business David Walburn joined Greater London Enterprise in 1986 where he was responsible for venture capital and other small business support, before becoming Chief Executive of the organisation. He was the Chair of the London Business Angels Network and played a key role in the setting up of the European Business Angels Network. He has worked with the UK government and the European Commission on developing public policy initiatives to improve the financing of small and medium-sized enterprises. He was the Chair of Capital Enterprise, the umbrella body for organisations supporting micro business development in London, until 2012.

For the last ten years he has been a Visiting Professor at London South Bank University where he headed the Local Economy Policy Unit and was the managing editor of the journal Local Economy.

He has served as President of EURADA, and been a member of a number of advisory bodies of the European Commission.  He has been an active member of the International Economic Development Council in Washington DC and has a wide range of international contacts with economic development organisations.

He continues to write and lecture on small business finance and regional economic development.