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Value of national coordination

It is natural that several research institutions collaborate on and use certain types of research infrastructure. A single institution cannot be expected to finance very costly scientific equipment on its own, and it is important that equipment involving such significant investments is utilised effectively by a wider user group. Databases are normally built, developed and used by many research groups. High-performance computing clusters and networks are essential for research activities in almost all subject fields. It is vital that the Research Council assists in coordinating investments in these and other areas and helps to ensure that the infrastructures are satisfactorily utilised nationally.

Analysis and strategic priority-setting regarding individual major investments

Coordinating the allocation of relatively large amounts of funding to research infrastructure of national importance makes it possible to give priority to a few large-scale infrastructures of national importance in a given allocation process. This is usually not possible under the Research Council’s other funding schemes and programmes, in part because the amount of funding available is limited, and in part because priority tends to be given to research projects rather than major investments in infrastructure.

Analysis of the grant applications received gives the Research Council an overview over Norway’s infrastructure needs, while coordination at the national level can provide a better overview of the investments that are actually made. This will make the Research Council better equipped to set strategic priorities and to target funding announcements for research infrastructure towards specific subject fields and thematic areas as needed.

Cooperation and task-sharing

The Research Council sets clear requirements for cooperation and task-sharing between research institutions and between research institutions and actors from industry, the public administration or the regional health authorities for projects to qualify for funding. Research applications for the infrastructures are largely targeted towards actors outside of the R&D institutions, which creates a culture and practical routines for making research infrastructure accessible to users from spheres outside the host institutions’ own researchers. The Research Council stipulates corresponding requirements for cooperation and task-sharing between Norwegian research institutions with regard to funding of Norwegian participation in joint international infrastructures.

Generic e-infrastructure

In recent years, research in many fields has become completely dependent on data management and utilising the increasingly large volumes of data being generated. The development of new sensor technology, digitalisation of research data and advanced data analysis tools mean that more and more research fields need storage capacity for and access to large volumes of research data. Overall, e-infrastructure for research encompasses equipment, operations and related services for high-performance computing, data storage, software systems and high-capacity networks, as well as tools for efficient work flows and software for simulations and analysis of data. The term “e-infrastructure” also refers to digital registries and databases as well as the tools and services for ensuring security and accessibility. It is clear that e-infrastructure is supplying services to more and more research fields that generate and/or use large data volumes and/or employ high-performance computing.

Norway has coordinated e-infrastructure for research and higher education through UNINETT AS and its subsidiary UNINETT Sigma2 AS (Sigma2). UNINETT develops and operates Norway’s high-capacity national research and education network, which connects over 200 Norwegian institutions and over 300 000 users to each other and to international research networks. The connection to the research network forms the basis for most other services supplied by UNINETT. Sigma2 is responsible for procurement, operation and further development of the generic e-infrastructure for high-performance computing and data storage. This is more cost-effective than parallel structuring of e-infrastructure solutions within the individual subject areas at the institutions. 

Long-term service agreements with the universities in Bergen, Oslo, Tromsø and Trondheim, in addition to basic funding from the Research Council via the National Financing Initiative for Research Infrastructure, make up a significant portion of the financing of Sigma2. In addition, Sigma2 has competition-based funding that includes application-based allocations from national (primarily the National Financing Initiative for Research Infrastructure) and international instruments. The Research Council also expects that some of Sigma2’s costs are covered via R&D projects that receive services from Sigma2.

Generic e-infrastructure has an impact on a great many scientific fields as well as other research infrastructures. Investments in e-infrastructure should be assessed in terms of the resources required for other national research infrastructures. Coordinating investment in national infrastructures helps Norway to tailor investment levels to actual needs and to target activities towards areas where the benefits of investments will be greatest. Centralised coordination of measures also provides opportunities to build bridges between infrastructures and subject fields to promote multidisciplinary research. The Research Council thus seeks to secure adequate, long-term funding for e-infrastructure within the applicable budgetary constraints and commensurate with the needs to be met.

Norwegian Roadmap for Research Infrastructure

The first version of the Norwegian Roadmap for Research Infrastructure was issued in 2010. The Research Council updates the roadmap prior to issuing each new call for proposals under the National Financing Initiative for Research Infrastructure. The main purpose of the roadmap is to identify Norway’s needs for updating of research infrastructure in the coming years, within a realistic budget framework. The roadmap consists of two parts, where Part 1 contains area strategies that outline the strategic basis for the Research Council’s thinking regarding research infrastructure in specific subject fields, thematic areas and technology areas. Part 2 provides an overview of infrastructures that have received funding thus far under the National Financing Initiative for Research Infrastructure, and includes projects that have not yet been granted funding but have received a positive assessment and are viewed as important for Norwegian research priorities. The Research Council has stringent criteria for which projects to highlight in Part 2 of the roadmap, in terms of quality as well as strategic relevance. Prioritisation is the result of a coordinated review and allocation process. The roadmap also provides funders other than the Research Council with a sound basis for funding decisions. 




Manuskript (Photo: Jon Solberg, Forskningsrådet)

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