President’s editorial: We need to unite around research infrastructure

The role of technology in solving the great challenges in society is rapidly expanding. Large, advanced research complexes and demonstration facilities are often key in delivering effective research and ensuring that research discoveries are utilised.

But research infrastructure is heterogeneous and facilities vary in nature – from individual confocal microscopes at one institution to large, multinational facilities such as European Spallation Source (ESS) or CERN. Responsibility, funding and access to facilities vary. A national research infrastructure strategy must address this diversity and create the conditions necessary for the existence of local facilities at the university level, major infrastructure with special national significance and infrastructure that can only be established through international cooperation, in particular at the Nordic and European levels.

Large research facilities are expensive and require stable funding – when being established and during operation, maintenance and upgrading. The growing need for investment requires us to develop a clear and long-term strategic agenda at the national level. It must be coordinated with EU strategies and opportunities to participate in work at international facilities. I agree with Lisbeth Olsson, the new Secretary General for Research Infrastructure at the Swedish Research Council, that Sweden’s research community now needs to unite around national and international research infrastructure. Priorities need to be set considering both bottom-up and top-down structures. Research quality must, of course, always be at the centre, but the needs of both the private and public sectors must also be taken into account.

Private use of our common research infrastructure is a key issue for IVA. The thresholds for companies to participate need to be lowered, and collaboration between universities, research institutes and the private sector must be incentivised and encouraged. Knowledge of facilities such as ESS, Max IV, Myfab and SNIC needs to increase among R&D-intensive companies. Efforts targeting companies need to be more proactive and incorporate collaboration models, advice and education, as well as showcases. Infrastructure and the support structures associated with it at universities and the large multinational facilities need resources to realise their full potential, especially when it comes to collaboration.

The ecosystem around the facilities (campuses, technology parks) is very important in creating an attractive environment – not just for companies and institutions, but also to a high degree for individuals as well. ESS and Max IV should act as powerful magnets for both national and international talent. This will strengthen Sweden’s brand as a leading knowledge and innovation nation and facilitate a supply of talent for universities and the private sector.

Efforts to create a strong and visionary strategic agenda for Swedish research infrastructure have entered a new phase following the recent presentation of Tobias Krantz's report on organisation, governance and funding of research infrastructure. Krantz, who led the inquiry, also points to more effective participation of Swedish companies in both building up and using research infrastructure as a means of maximising benefits for society from investments made using public funds. Here at IVA we are carefully analysing the many interesting proposals in the inquiry report. We encourage you to watch the webcast of our discussion with Tobias Krantz at IVA’s Annual Meeting on 29 September.