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Research infrastructure in Europe and the rest of the world

Foto: HUNT Biobank (Photo: HUNT Biobank) European research policy-makers at both the national and pan-European level are well aware of the need for updated research infrastructure. The Norwegian Government’s Long-term plan for research and higher education  stresses the importance of Norway’s participation in European cooperation on research infrastructure, both for attracting top international researchers and for ensuring that Norwegian scientists have access to the best research infrastructures available in Europe. Norway takes part in over 30 European collaborations on research infrastructure and pays annual membership fees to use these facilities. While this is vitally important for Norwegian research activities, there is a need for ongoing cost-benefit analyses of memberships of new, large-scale international infrastructures and of the value of continuing current memberships. 

ESFRI Roadmap

The European Strategy Forum for Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) promotes pan-European policy development and cooperation on investment in and operation of research infrastructures. ESFRI serves as a meeting place where national representatives discuss relevant infrastructure-related issues. 

Norwegian participation in international research infrastructure

Establishing membership

  • It is typically a government ministry that formally applies for Norwegian membership of an international research infrastructure and that may subsequently withdraw Norway from the cooperation.
  • Research communities are to submit an application to the Research Council for the establishment of new memberships. The application will be subject to the same review procedure as other grant applications under the National Financing Initiative for Research Infrastructure. This is designed to ensure that funding is awarded to the projects of highest merit and national strategic relevance. The Research Council will assess the long-term financial obligations that membership entails and the extent to which membership will comprise added value for Norwegian research when ranking such applications ahead of other national or international applications.
  • After assessing the application, the Research Council will advise the relevant ministry on whether to establish Norwegian membership.

Membership fees

  • For single-site infrastructures, operating costs are typically financed through an annual membership fee. The National Financing Initiative for Research Infrastructure may provide funding towards such membership fees. A pledge may only be granted for a specific period, usually five years. Any continued financing must be based on regularly submitted applications under the National Financing Initiative for Research Infrastructure or on evaluations.
  • For distributed research infrastructures with one or more Norwegian nodes, the Research Council considers membership fees to be part of the operating costs of the national node(s).

Norwegian representation in governing bodies for projects on the ESFRI Roadmap

  • To ensure that memberships are adequately supported in Norwegian research institutions, the institutions should be involved in the management of the Norwegian memberships.
  • Where Norway has decided on – or the Research Council has recommended – membership in ESFRI projects still in the planning and implementation phase, the Research Council will as a rule have a role in the project’s governing body. The Council may, however, in consultation with the relevant ministry, choose to appoint a resource person from a Norwegian research institution to take the Council’s place in the governing body.
  • In ESFRI projects that have entered a well-functioning operational phase, the Research Council, in consultation with the relevant ministry, will consider replacing its own representation in the governing body with a resource person from one of the participating Norwegian research institutions.


The forum also draws up the ESFRI Roadmap, which identifies needs for updating or establishing new pan-European research infrastructures in most research areas. The European research infrastructures on the ESFRI Roadmap enable research that addresses major societal challenges in areas such as health, climate, the environment, oceans, food and energy. ESFRI incorporates landscape analyses into its roadmap  to describe the national and international research infrastructures open to European researchers and industrial actors.

Single-site or distributed research infrastructure

A research infrastructure can either be located at a single site or distributed across countries that have complementary nodes within a common infrastructure. An infrastructure located at one site typically has relatively high investment and operating costs, which is why several countries work together on funding that infrastructure. A distributed research infrastructure, as defined by ESFRI, is organised as a separate legal entity jointly owned and managed by participating countries, and with nationally owned nodes. The national nodes are required to make some of their capacity available to users from the other participating countries. It is important that the national nodes establish a long-term business model that covers operating costs. As a rule, investment and operating costs for the joint legal entity are covered by the participating countries’ membership fees. A majority of the research infrastructures on the ESFRI Roadmap are distributed.

Principles of ESFRI membership

The Ministry of Education and Research has asked the Research Council to follow up Norwegian participation in ESFRI. This involves, among other things, drawing up an analysis document for decision-making and put forth recommendations regarding Norwegian participation in individual research infrastructures on the ESFRI Roadmap. In collaboration with the Ministry, the Research Council has set out principles for: establishing, continuing and withdrawing memberships; how the institutions and the Research Council are to deal with membership funding; and Norwegian representation in the infrastructures’ governing bodies (see the fact box). The Research Council bases its recommendations on assessment of grant applications under the National Financing Initiative for Research Infrastructure.

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