National e-IRG delegates from more than 20 European countries, leaders of major EU-funded e-Infrastructure projects, and European Commission representatives attended the e-IRG workshop in Prague, on 14-15 May 2009, held at the Czech Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports. The workshop was organised by CESNET, the Czech National Research and Education Network (NREN), under the auspices of the Czech Presidency of the European Union. It focused on a number of key challenges related to e-Infrastructures and research in Europe, such as partnerships and cooperation at national and regional levels, governance models, and legal issues.
Konstantin Glinos, the Head of Unit DG INFSO/F3 Géant & e-Infrastructure of the European Commission, presented the recent EC Communication on "ICT Infrastructures for e-Science", which highlights the strategic role of ICT infrastructures as a crucial asset underpinning European research and innovation policies. Glinos set the tone of the workshop by calling for a reinforced and coordinated effort to foster world-class ICT infrastructures (e-Infrastructures), paving the way for the scientific discoveries of the 21st century.
Some major e-Infrastructure and ESFRI preparatory projects were discussed during the workshop. Particular attention was given to FEDERICA, an e-Infrastructure project launched in 2008, aiming at implementing an experimental network infrastructure for testing new network technologies; CLARIN, which seeks to create an integrated and interoperable infrastructure in the field of language resources; and ELIXIR, a project dedicated to the creation of a sustainable infrastructure for biological information in Europe. The two latter projects aim is the creation of major research facilities, and the projects are considered as candidate "users" of the European e-Infrastructure.
The outcome of two major European conferences recently held in the Czech Republic ("Research Infrastructures and the Regional Dimension of ERA", 24-25 March, 2009; and "Future of the Internet", 11-13 May 2009) were also presented and discussed. The first conference focused on the role of research infrastructures in regional development. Research infrastructures are at the root of European competitiveness, and are crucial to the social and economic development of regions. Policy makers have now acknowledged the growing importance of e-Infrastructures for the efficient operation of research infrastructures, and the role of the e-Infrastructure as a catalyst for the European Research Area, and for European integration. The second conference offered an overview of the different challenges that Europe will have to address if it wants to be a key player shaping the future of the Internet.
The development of ICT tools and infrastructures poses many new challenges that need to be tackled: for example managing exascale computing, dealing with a growing flood of more and more complex data, data sharing in an open and distributed infrastructure, and developing new tools and applications to maximise the benefits brought by these new technical opportunities, require the adoption of a global and coordinated approach, at European level. In this respect, the cooperation between countries, between European researchers, and between universities and industries is crucial. Another key point emphasised during the e-IRG workshop was the need to develop the connections between e-Infrastructure developers and users, and to promote governance models that better integrate the user communities into the e-Infrastructures.
Legal issues related to research infrastructures were also at the heart of this e-IRG workshop. Appropriate legal forms for research infrastructures were discussed, in particular the Community legal framework for a European Research Infrastructure (ERIC, formerly named ERI). The aim of the ERIC is to provide an easy-to-use legal instrument adapted to research infrastructures in Europe. It should therefore be as flexible as possible, in order to adapt to projects, and should also provide some of the advantages allowed at national level for intergovernmental organisations. Procurement issues were also addressed, with a focus on the Pre-Commercial Procurement (PCP) approach supported by the European Commission, which aims to stimulate spending in R&D services by public entities in the Member States. Finally, open access to data and ethical issues (such as data protection and privacy rights) were discussed, through the use case of exchange of medical information across European countries.
The e-IRG workshop provided a good opportunity to evaluate the forthcoming major challenges in the field of e-Infrastructures, and to reassert the need for a global and coordinated approach at the European level to tackle these challenges. The e-IRG intends to play a major role in the development of e-Infrastructures by facilitating the exchange of information, and encouraging best practices.
You can access the full summary report of the e-IRG Prague workshop here.