What is a Research Infrastructure?

The term “Research Infrastructure” is not uniformly and globally defined. As an example, during the COOPEUS FP7 project (and associated US NSF COOPEUS project), a significant amount of time was spent mapping the US environmental research infrastructures. However, communication in the US side was hampered by the determining what to include in the analysis: Different funding agencies in the US had very different characterizations on the term infrastructure. For this reason RISCAPE defines the Research Infrastructure based on the European viewpoint, and selecting the international RIs from this perspective to maintain some degree of comparability.

The Directorate-General for Research European Commission defines to the Research Infrastructures as[1]

“research infrastructure” means facilities, resources and related services that are used by the scientific community to conduct top-level research in their respective fields and covers major scientific equipment or sets of instruments; knowledge-based resources such as collections, archives or structures for scientific information; enabling Information and Communications Technology-based infrastructures such as Grid, computing, software and communication, or any other entity of a unique nature essential to achieve excellence in research. Such infrastructures may be “single-sited” or “distributed” (an organised network of resources),

which is also corresponds to earlier FP7 definition of an RI.

However, for the purpose of RISCAPE, the following draft requirements are derived from the above definitions:

  • To be a Research Infrastructure for RISCAPE purposes, the international RI must provide facilities, resources or related services to researchers also from outside of the Research Infrastructure institution itself. From the perspective of ESFRI RIs, this seems nonsensical: ESFRI RIs are typically meant to act as providers of services to researchers, not to act as researching institutions. However, in many non-European RI organizations, the infrastructure-like part is embedded into other research institutions and to maintain some degree of comparability with the European RIs, the need of general service provision is needed (even with requirements of registration, user fees, etc.).
  • The purpose of the RI services must be to conduct or facilitate research. This requirement is needed to maintain the focus on research-orientation;
  • The international RI must also have some degree of longevity. This requirement does not come from directly from the above definition, but is a major part of the whole European ESFRI process, and is one of the underlying implicit expectations for an RI. This requirement is also important for the usability of the RISCAPE report: short term projects with no long-term longevity or sustainability plans, would only have a of very brief use period in such a report and are therefore excluded.

These draft requirements will be further defined by the RISCAPE Stakeholder Panel and a level of freedom in choosing the international targets is retained in the disciplinary Work Packages (WPs 3-10).

[1] European Commission: Legal framework for a European Research Infrastructure Consortium – ERIC Practical Guidelines, DOI: 10.2777/79873

Scope definition (work in progress)

The scope defines which Targets (international RIs) will be included in the Landscape analysis. It provides the boundary conditions to be used our analysis. The idea is that all organisations which meet the scope criteria are included for analysis and the ones outside of it are excluded.

Aims of the project

Aims for the landscape analysis define why this analysis is done and how it is supposed to be used. Determining these aims together with identified Stakeholder groups is crucial to define the next steps of the analysis. However, we should start from the point of view of the RISCAPE project objectives:


The objective of the RISCAPE is to provide systematic, focused, high quality, comprehensive, consistent and peer-reviewed international landscape analysis report on the position and complementarities of the major European research infrastructures in the international research infrastructure landscape.


This is also reflected by the call requirements to supplement the ESFRI landscape process, i.e. our aims are to identify RIs internationally which are at a similar level of development to the RIs in ESFRI, or at least ones which bring us closer to understanding complementarities (even in some cases different size or importance) globally even if there are some deviations from the ESFRI definition. Such deviations are to be expected since Europe is very advanced in terms of RI provisions having the most extensive cross-national arrangements of RIs anywhere in the world.

Scope aspects

Some of the key aspects relevant to research infrastructure scope are

Existence of international research infrastructures which have complementarities with existing ESFRI RIs (and Key International Initiatives which are of a size and scope that would make them eligible for the ESFRI roadmap eg CERN). This is quite difficult to determine in some cases, but crucial to the later RISCAPE analysis. The aim is to find a definition to determine when an infrastructure can be considered to exist from an RISCAPE perspective. Very strict criteria could be applied, e.g. limiting this to RIs that have legal personality however this will not even capture some very important European research infrastructures, and will not necessarily reflect how RIs are organised globally. Similarly choosing a very loose definition (e.g. defining an RI as any group with a common name and a webpage or a social media hashtag) is not constructive either. Existence criteria could be demonstrated via many ways (depending on the selected minimum level for analysis), for example

    • Based on a national law;
    • Existence of legal organisation structure (i.e. being a legal person) or a confirmed part of a legal organisation structure (e.g. a separate division in a research institution for a specific purpose);
    • Binding contract or a set of Memorandum of understandings between legal persons (research institutions, etc.);
    • Support from national or regional power structures, e.g. part of the national/regional infrastructure roadmap, being a strategic priority of a regional government, etc.
    • Documentation of existence, founding documents, rules, etc.
    • (for looser networks) webpage, activity reports, publications, internal standards documents, best practices documents
    • Outputs – evidence of facilities which can be accessed or the availability of outputs (eg data)

Temporal persistence must also be defined. In many cases, the landscape analysis is meant to be used for some period of time, so including upcoming activities needs to be considered. Similarly, a major existing RI could be fit into the scope of the analysis, but if it is set to be shut down soon, analysing the activities might not be fruitful (although a replacement could be, or the gap left by missing this target could also be relevant). Sustainability criteria can also be defined to limit the scope of the analysis for initiatives which have at least the intent and a plan for some scale of longevity. Temporal criteria could be demonstrated via

    • Existing funding sources / service commitments, their time span
    • Sustainability model, user fees, etc.
    • Estimated operation time
    • Scheduled shutdown time
    • (for looser networks) activity plans, participation history, individual commitments
    • (indirect) large scale investments (sign of long term commitment)

Relationship with the user communities can also be an important requirement for the scope setting. As the landscape analysis can require some sort of service portfolio meant to be usable with a worldwide scientific audience outside of the target organisation, this scope definition can be very important. The relationship to the user communities can be demonstrated by e.g.

    • User manuals
    • Web page information on the access (see below) methods
    • Freely available documentation of the facilities and capabilities
    • External advertisment (inc. social media)
    • Stakeholder involvement (eg user groups, advisory boards)

Product scope is to make sure that the products (data, access, methods, etc.) are suitable for the landscape analysis planned. This could indicate that the products of the RI are connected to the scientific research, and that this is not an organisation with only non-scientific products. Demonstration by means of e.g.

    • Product catalog
    • Dissemination material
    • User community products (e.g. publications)

Geographical (or location) relevance is cases crucial for the selection of the infrastructures in somc cases. Due to scientific, political or other reasons, the analysis can concentrate on specific areas, or disregard some areas. This limitation can be more political tham actually geographical, in which case the “location” might indicate ownership of e.g. a moving observatory or a web-based tool, regardless of its actual location. A regional (in the global sense) approach can be used to monitor the intensity of levels of engagement with RIs in different regions. This is distinct to ‘coverage’ and may be used to identify ‘hub’ locations.  Jurisdiction may be relevant for collaborative actions. Demonstration via e.g.

    • Infrastructure documentation or mission statements
    • International agreements (e.g. “covering observations in regions x and y”)

Access and openness can be also considered as a key element in terms of  fostering international collaboration consisting in being able to: i. attract the best researchers coming from over the world; ii. design of a new generation of interconnected infrastructures; ensure global interoperability.

    • Data policies
    • Access policies
    • Access to international users (can be a scope criteria)

Impact / Significance requirement This is a catch-all requirement which is meant to be more determining the overall role of the infrastructure in the field. The main idea of this requirement is to make sure that the usage aspects and the position of the RI is considered in the process to include them in the analysis. However, to determining these aspects is much more difficult. Some possible ways to get documentation on these could be

    • No of users
    • Position in the field, Scientific significance (very hard to determine, perhaps using peer comments from European ESFRIs)
    • Significance to the societal challenges
    • Socio/economic impact
    • Scientific and societal impact