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A very successful International Conference on Research Infrastructures (ICRI) took place in Cape Town, South Africa on the 3-5 October 2016. ICRI is the meeting of the Research Infrastructure community with the purpose of moving towards enhanced cooperation on globally-relevant Research Infrastructures. The Department of Science and Technology, South Africa in collaboration with the National Research Foundation co-hosted the 2016 ICRI with the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation. ICRI 2016 attracted 560 delegates from 60 countries who participated over several sessions during the duration of the Conference.

The Conference also hosted a range of fringe events, an exhibition, and interaction with student participants. Schools in Cape Town were invited to the exhibition, thereby providing a platform to engage young learners in developing their interest in science.


The Conference was opened by South Africa’s Minister of Science and Technology, Minister Pandor and the Director General of the EC Directorate-General: Research and Innovation, Mr Robert-Jan Smits.

In her opening remarks the Minister of Science and Technology reminded us that "This year’s event is special. It will be the first time the ICRI, which over the years has unarguably become the leading global forum for policy and strategy discussions on research infrastructures, will be hosted outside Europe. We are proud that this landmark event is hosted in Africa. Its appropriate recognition of our continent’s growing commitment to science and technology, and participation in global research and innovation partnerships". Minister Pandor went on to highlight that “research infrastructures are the lifeblood of successful systems of innovation and are key platforms that promote international collaboration in science & technology. Research infrastructures are also key in terms of the societal dimension, and have an important role to play in addresses the challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment.”

Director General, Robert-Jan Smits highlighted that "Research Infrastructures, be they regional or national, cannot ignore the international landscape in which they are called to operate and international collaboration has more and more become a necessity". He underlined that "Research Infra-structures wherever located are facing a number of common challenges: Ensuring Excellence of the science done and the services provided; Managing and Sharing data, reaching out to industry, contributing to the local environment, training the next generation of managers. This calls on exchange of good practices. The long-term sustainability of research infra-structures and more particularly their sustainable funding needs to be addressed in a global context and an action plan is currently being developed to address this important aspect.”


Dr Rob Adam, Director of the Square Kilometre Array South Africa Project, highlighted in his address how South Africa has placed science & technology at the heart of the key policy making decisions since democracy, particularly in research infrastructure investment. He highlighted the challenges faced by Government at the time. Some of the principles that were used for choosing priority areas included; areas for national competitiveness, the use of geographic advantage, use of “problem” advantage, as well areas that presented a “knowledge” advantage. The vision for Investments in Research Infrastructure in South Africa is “To ensure availability of and access to internationally comparable research and innovation infrastructure in order to generate new knowledge; train new researchers; and facilitate knowledge exploitation”

Dr Kevin Govender, Director of the IAU Office of Astronomy for Development, in his address, highlighted the 4th Industrial Revolution. This is characterised by a fusion of technologies between the physical, digital and biological spheres. Disruptive technologies are changing the way we make decisions, develop policy and business models. Research infrastructures are enablers, can be seen as sources of providing technologies that will disrupt societies.

Plenary Session 1

Global Research Infrastructures

The objectives of this session were to set the scene and provide a broad definition for Global Research Infrastructures (GRIs), as well as outline the main policy issues and common challenges for global RIs. It also set the context on and introduced topics that were to be discussed at ICRI, including long-term sustainability; socio-economic impact, expanding partnerships and human capital development.

Key Points - Plenary Session 1

  • There is great diversity of GRIs reflecting a diverse array of science challenges;
  • GRIs should be used to address global challenges and global science, and foster global cooperation and partnerships;
  • Robust governance is necessary for sustainable implementation of a GRI;
  • Big data poses specific technical challenges;
  • Open data policies could increase the value of data;
  • Inclusion of developing countries as full members of GRI is necessary but this has its own set of challenges: infrastructure, human capacity, etc.;
  • Apart from pursuing scientific excellence and innovation, GRIs should exploit the potential societal impact of deploying the infrastructure;
  • Basic science performed by sustainable RIs can drive major socio-economic changes and play a crucial role in the development of our society

Plenary Session 2

Open Science and Open Innovation: Harnessing the potential of Research Infrastructures

This session provided the platform to debate the issues of Open Science and Open Innovation in a global context and the concept of Open Data; discuss Open Science Infrastructures; outlining challenges and opportunities of harnessing the potential of RIs for Open Science/Open Innovation. RIs as collaborative platforms and intermediaries between public and private sectors, as ecosystems for Open Innovation, was also Mechanisms and potential challenges for the developing world to embrace open science; Outlining opportunities and challenges ahead.

Key points – Plenary 2

RAPPORTEUR - Philippe Froissard

  • Open science is at the heart of Research Infrastructures; they sit at the nexus between Big Data, Open Science and postgraduate research training.
  • Education of scientists to sharing resources and data but also the training of new skills and professions linked to Big Data is one of the key issues to ensure the success of open
  • Open science is not only about sharing data within a given community, it is about allowing the use of data across disciplines as more and more research requires a multidisciplinary approach and therefore requires interoperability between research infrastructures, thus ensuring scientific excellence.
  • RI's potential to foster innovation is clearly recognised and should be fully explored. Opportunities provided by the development of components, services and knowledge for the implementation and upgrade of RIs should be better exploited to push the limits of existing technology.

Plenary Session 3

The Role of Research Infrastructures in a Data-Driven Society 

This session set the scene for data driven science and the role of research infrastructures; presented the challenges and opportunities provided by big data, cloud, data management and the implications for research infrastructures. It also highlighted Data as infrastructure in a global context. Data policies and practices facilitating international collaborations, fostering innovation, tackling and contributing to the sustainable development goals.

Key points – Plenary 3

  • Key themes included importance of sharing data and the reuse and management of data with people as the key element
  • The European Open Science cloud is a distributed cloud infra for open science that ensures trusted access to services and systems; re-use of shared data, across disciplines.
  • African Data Intensive Research Cloud - recognised that big data trillion dollar industry and that Africa needs to develop support for science and deal with the growth of data science.
  • Collaboration, data accessibility and interoperability are key.
  • There is an opportunity in Africa to use data to improve governance.
  • The importance of human capital development was highlighted. In the recruitment of more data scientists need to encourage girls to take data science.
  • The importance of bottom-up initiatives like RDA - involving individual researchers - to make the culture changes and education/training happen
  • Data management - part of the research process and research grants need to recognise this. The provenance, where data comes from is important for ascertaining quality as is peer review through re-use. Data loss is real and significant while data growth is staggering. Storing, maintaining and creating data has a cost.
  • Need for sound intellectual property regimes and capacity building of HR and youth, partnership between developing countries
  • Grassroots platform that Africans see as a potential for training data scientists.

Plenary Session 4

Science Diplomacy, Research Infrastructures and societal challenges 

The session discussed the framework for science diplomacy and international cooperation on global research infrastructures and societal challenges including sustainable development, poverty alleviation and job creation, climate change, public health, food security and sustainable agriculture; Role of RI’s in the developing world; RI’s for Food security and public health; RI’s for Climate change and the environment; RI’s for social science Education, outreach, attracting young people and women into science; Role of RI's in bringing governments together to advance ‘science for peace’ agenda

Key points – Plenary 4

  • Build resilient infrastructures, in line with Sustainable Development Goals.
  • In Africa, there is the need for Integrative infrastructure across the continent, as well as investments linked to RIs that support international collaborations; regional facilities; mobility and facilitated access.
  • Into the future: A KPI to be considered as a measure of success for investments is the increase in publications with the lead authorship from the African continent.
  • There is a strong relation between science and society and vice versa
  • RIs are enablers and it is meaningless without people
  • RIs must address a scientific question, which also guides the establishment and sustainability of the RI - inputs from global users is essential.
  • Research at RIs should focus on fundamental science that is able to inspire the young and old (outreach).
  • The magnitude of the RI requires a global approach
  • Data and Information Portals are required in terms of open access and repositories
  • Computing Grid essential to distribute and analyse data.
  • High bandwidth capabilities essential for researchers to be able to access RIs remotely
  • Lessons from the investments in RIs:
  • Show your political sponsor that is value to be accrued (get something done).
  • Have more than one champion.
  • Understand the limitations.
  • Prototyping (delineate R&D from construction)
  • Have the right culture

Parallel Session 1

Parallel Session 1 - Towards long-term sustainability

The session set the scene on the issue of long-term sustainability of Research Infrastructures, shared good practices and comparing models from different world regions; discussed the implications of an increasing open science environment for sustainability; innovative funding mechanisms and investment models for the RIs of tomorrow; Reconciling political and scientific decision-making in the context of national and multi-national road mapping; sharing experiences on legal forms and governance regimes of an international RI, business models/ frameworks for global research infrastructure.

Key points – Parallel 1

  • Challenges of sustainability are diverse and inter-connected
  • Pre-requisites include excellent science; medium to long term funding; development of human capacity & unlocking the innovation potential
  • Full life cycle must be planned. Including termination /change/cycles of development. Long term view required.
  • Science user base (enabled; funded; excellent) is paramount; public and politicians also need to be convinced of the value of investment – need talented and trained people to ensure this. An outcry from scientists is often only heard when facility shuts down.
  • Access provided to best scientists across the world. New users also need to be exposed to RI, for succession and continuity peer-review to choose best proposals, complemented by strategic analysis of proposals
  • Peer-review to choose best proposals, complemented by strategic analysis of proposals – possible match-making and mentorship opportunities. Balance excellence with usefulness.
  • For sustainability, a tri-lateral partnership is needed – scientific users, RI management, and funders/funding agencies. Policy-makers to be partners; involved in governance. Should be seen as eco-system.
  • Proper training of RI managers needs to receive more attention – many generic skills needed, despite diversity – formalised mentorship and collaborative training programmes
  • Full costing model- being developed by Those involved in operational management must have business planning skills.
  • Innovation potential of RIs must be unlocked - not only technological but also social and cultural innovation. Mutually beneficial partnerships are possible, with industry, with communities – co-design and co-innovation; support for start-ups;
  • IP management plans should be designed to play an enabling role;
  • “languages” differ and short term vs. long term outlooks may be a challenge

Parallel Session 2

Parallel Session 2 - Socio-economic impact of Research Infrastructures

The session looked at defining and measuring the socio-economic impact of Research Infrastructures; Sharing existing models and good practices; Life-cycle of a RI and related socio-economic impact; and concrete case studies from different fields

Key points – Parallel 2

  • Increasing demand for impact assessment – ex-post and ex-ante
  • Linked to the demand, must ensure channel and communicate societal benefits to the general public
  • Time lag to impact must be considered
  • Synergies between RIs and joint impact is rarely assessed
  • Infrastructure viewpoint: Longer term impacts from the science are the most important
  • Many indicators to measure impact but short to medium term impacts are easier to measure; should focus on measurement of long-term impacts but generally challenging to measure
  • No one size fits all approach to assessment - diversity of RI size and mission
  • Funder/decision maker viewpoint: Ex ante evaluation can use traditional CBA techniques. Complex, limitations due to lack of market data
  • Methodology remains challenging for all assessment types
  • Focus on case studies due to lack of commonly accepted indicators
  • International benchmarking is challenging
  • Needs to be buy-in from the RI community - mutual advantage
  • Current models: Good frameworks exist to describe the impact over the lifecycle of facilities. Limited adoption due to lack of data and long-term nature
  • Difficult to capture complex and multidimensional research
  • Current models apply better to single site, natural sciences
  • Indicators can introduce a bias and influence behaviour
  • Impact assessment should be linked to mission and strategy
  • Ideas for the future: Assessment strategy should be built in from start – harder and more costly to do later
  • Methodology should suit the needs of the different stakeholders
  • Indicators and assessment linked to strategy, meaning diversity of RIs taken into account

Parallel Session 3

Expanding partnerships across disciplines, sectors and world regions

The session drew on the experiences and expertise of highly accomplished researchers who have undertaken cutting-edge science while working to expand partnerships across nations, world regions and sectors. The discussed ways to foster stronger convergence at global level; Practices for increasing multi-disciplinary approaches and new players entering the RIs scene, fostering public-private partnerships; Enabling contributions from basic science to turn into new knowledge and applications, contributing to societal challenges; Enhancing citizens' and public engagement in science; Sharing practices and experience on evaluation criteria and prioritization processes

Key points – Parallel 3

  • Science comes first. This may seem to be an obvious statement, but it is sometimes forgotten in discussions around partnerships and innovation. Deriving useful and beneficial knowledge from research, and communicating that knowledge throughout society, is the overall goal. This goal is facilitated by partnerships, from the local to the global levels, and does drive innovation in all sectors of society, but the science is the prerequisite.
  • Planning for the future in the development and use of research infrastructures is a crucial element for success. This is particularly important for very large-scale research infrastructures but is it also true for e-infrastructures, distributed infrastructures, globally networked small-scale infrastructures. Planning, however, and especially at the international level, requires dense, active and inclusive partnerships and continuous engagement among a broad range of stakeholders.
  • Developing research data management facilities and effective sharing systems remains complicated and challenging for all stakeholders. Maximizing the use of data, through partnerships and implementation of appropriate policies, procedures, and support systems remains the key to success.
  • The current lack of international frameworks and effective supporting mechanisms for funding and knowledge exchange results in lost opportunities for effective partnering. The Group of Senior Officials is seen as a promising start, but much more work remains to be done.
  • The OECD Global Science Forum could also be of significance importance in brokering partnerships at the international level.
  • Both distributed and single-site research infrastructures produce important social and economic benefits for society, but in different ways, at different scales and they offer different opportunities for partnerships. Sorting this out requires engagement at a variety of levels and through the development of appropriate venues and mechanisms.
  • A one-size-fits-all approach will not work. Research infrastructures, of all types, can play a key role by creating hubs for communication and knowledge-sharing networks that span numerous disciplines, areas of research and world regions.
  • Funding is crucial for success. Like the first point, this may seem obvious, but developing the means, organizing the various national and regional agencies involved, and determining who can, and should, pay for what remains a challenge and a significant barrier to international and inter-sectoral partnerships. More effort will be required in order for our societies to realize the benefits from the increasingly global nature of research and technology development.

Parallel Session 4

Inclusive Research Infrastructures for development and capacity building;

Today's research is increasingly data-driven, the key skills needed for the management of GRIs are changing as well. E-skills are becoming crucial for researchers and scientists that must widen their knowledge to take full advantage of the current data revolution. Additionally, skills relating to the supporting science are in increasing demand. This session explored GRIs in a changing world and the challenges are for skills. Focus was on issues such as how to overcome the skills gap; human capital/capacity development; attracting, training and retaining human resources, recognising new skills and professions; fostering capacity building and sharing good practices in the context of sustainable development goals; as well as industry-university collaboration with RIs: involve them in training for RI staff/managers

Key points – Parallel 4

  • Cutting-edge technology, frontier science, and culture are three of the most important characteristics of a developed nation.
  • The area of astronomy was highlighted as an outstanding tool for fostering technological and human development.
  • Hosting scientific infrastructures contributes to technological development, can stimulate human capacity building through education, inspiration, and empowerment. It is essential that the host country is a full partner in the project.
  • Exposing young children to exciting and inspirational aspects of astronomy and space is a cost-effective way of motivating them, furthering their education and thereby stimulating global capacity building
  • Some of the challenges highlighted include global data generation and the increasing number of data generation sites.
  • Data is seen as a global commodity. There are common opportunities that promote excellence through capacity development.
  • Human capital and capacity development are essential. Skills development of users, through training courses, industry-academia collaboration, skills exchange, on-demand training needs, international schools
  • Understanding the skills needs are critical to providing the appropriate training.
  • Shared responsibility between Governments, universities, research institutions, industry and other stakeholders of R&D
  • Embrace co-creation of and co-responsibility for research solutions
  • Mew management regimes are needed to ensure research infrastructures are adequately designed and capacitated with skills

Closing Plenary Session

At the closing plenary, Director General of the South African Department of Science & Technology, Dr Phil Mjwara, highlighted some of the key messages from ICRI 2016

Key points - Closing plenary (DG Mjwara)

  • Given the multitude of challenges faced globally, such as climate change, energy, etc, it is critical that GRI play a role in addressing these.
  • The societal dimension of GRI - the impact of the investments made on issues of poverty, inequality and unemployment were also raised in several discussions.
  • GRIs are also seen as mechanisms that facilitate international partnerships. They address global challenges and global science, and foster global cooperation and partnerships
  • Throughout the conference, at the main sessions as well as at fringe events, the issue of data management emerged. GRIs and how the dynamics of distributed knowledge are addressed was highlighted
  • Linked this was the issue of open science and open innovation – the need for research infrastructures to be able to respond as well have in place the systems was raised
  • We live in a data driven society - research infrastructure are seen as the catalysts for disruptive technologies
  • Key to facilitating the effective operation of Research infrastructures, is that of building the critical human capital development and skills needed
  • Research infrastructures also serve as catalyst for development.
  • Robust governance is necessary for sustainable implementation of a GRI
  • They also serve to attract interest from the public as well as learners in science
  • South Africa’s successful co-hosting with the EC achieved the following:
  • Contribution to the policy debate on research infrastructures
  • ICRI as the premier platform for discussions on research infrastructures
  • ICRI 2016 – enriched by the contribution of global participation from Africa and other Continents
  • Expanding partnerships across sectors
  • Initiating and building on partnerships across regions

In his closing remarks, Director-General Robert-Jan Smits, highlighted also some key messages:

Key points - Closing plenary (DG Smits)

  • Research Infrastructures (RIs) are core enablers of competitive research, development and innovation, advancing the frontiers of our knowledge.
  • RIs have an important role to play, especially for human capital development and have a wider socio-economic impact at local, regional and national level. Measuring this impact is not a straight-forward exercise.
  • Especially in the developing world, RIs can actively contribute to:
    • sustainable development,
    • tackle inequalities,
    • poverty alleviation and job creation,
    • assessing climate change and the environment
    • public health,
    • food security and sustainable agriculture and last but not least
    • education, outreach and attracting young people and women into science.
  • The magnitude of most RIs makes them key enablers of partnerships not only between researchers from different disciplines, but also between nations, world regions and governments and across boundaries.
  • All RIs face a common challenge: their long-term sustainability. Many factors are weighing into this challenge:
    • scientific excellence;
    • training of the best scientists and engineers for managing and operating RI;
    • developing the innovation potential;
    • exploiting better the data generated by the RI and
    • providing sustainable governance and funding.

A shift towards long-term planning and stronger attention to sustainability is unavoidable.

Director-General Smits concluded underlining that once again ICRI confirmed to be THE international forum to discuss common challenges and explore new cooperation opportunities for RIs. It provides an international stage to research infrastructures where matters can be discussed in an open and frank way.


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    +27 (11) 025 5985
    Office Hours | 08h00 - 17h00 | Mon - Fri

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