Foresight enriched Research Infrastructure Impact Assessment Methodology

Carrying out the socio-economic impact assessment of Research Infrastructures (RIs) presents many complex challenges. A vast multitude of methods and indicators are used in singular assessments, lacking a common ground. The RIFI project set out to deliver a coherent methodological framework with clear procedures, instructions, recommendations and instruments to conduct such an assessment for RI projects: FenRIAM – Foresight enriched Research Infrastructure Impact Assessment Methodology.

Assessing RIs in Europe – the policy context

Research Infrastructures (RIs) of pan-European significance are recognised as significant contributors to excellence, creativity, and innovative ideas. Therefore they are essential ingredients for the realisation of core objectives of regional, national, and European policies in the context of global competition. The necessity of new arrangements, improved coordination, and more efficiency of RI related activities in order to respond adequately to the newly emerging needs of science and industry has been frequently addressed in recent years.

Key policy messsages:
●World class large-scale RIs are widely acknowledged by European Member States (MS) and the European Commission (EC) as playing a key role in the implementation of the ERA vision and the European Knowledge Society.
●In the Green Paper on ERA (EC 2007) the EC acknowledged world-class RIs in the form of joint European ventures as key features of a fully realised European Research Area.
●The European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) and the joint effort of the MS to develop a common European Roadmap for RIs (ESFRI 2006), identifying key needs and priority areas for large-scale RIs, reflects the significance of this issue and is a first step on the way to a sound European RI landscape.
● The current Framework Programme FP7 contains in its specific programme “Capacities” a section on RI with a funding volume of more than € 1.8 billion over its duration up to 2013, with the aim to “optimise the use and development of the best RIs existing in Europe” and […]  “help to create new RIs of pan-European
interest in all fields of science and technology.” (EC 2009).
●The Commission outlined in the working document (EC 2001) priority actions towards:
●creating mechanisms for EU-wide scientific advice and policy-making on RIs,
●combining the resources of the MS for the development of new key RIs, and
●optimising the exploitation of existing RIs in Europe.  

Projects from the ESFRI Roadmap, with the financial support of FP7, have now entered the preparatory phase for construction. The implementation of a funding-mix approach would be of particular importance, linking national resources and European Structural Funds to support the poorer European MS in shouldering the immense financial burdens brought about by projects of this dimension. Key decisions on RI financing, location, management, and development, have to account for considerable social and economic disparities among regions since the EU enlargement and be in line with objectives of European Cohesion Policy, thus promoting smart regional development across all of its regions.

The European Cohesion Policy seeks to overcome the economic and social disparities and strengthen Europe's economic and political integration by:
(1) investing in areas of high growth potential,
(2) investing in the drivers of growth and employment, and
(3) developing synergies and complementarities with other Community policies.

The role of RIs beyond scientific impacts

Construction and operation of large-scale cutting-edge RIs, such as synchrotrons, global observatory networks or powerful lasers, requires huge funding and firm support, both by investors and RI project teams. Therefore, it is critical to carry out an assessment of possible future returns before committing to this endeavour. The returns sought are often related to the generation of scientific breakthroughs, their translation to innovative technologies and successful market application for economic growth and competitive development. The increasing role of society in policy- and decision-making processes requires convincing evidences and justification on RI public investments beyond their impacts on science, the innovation system and economy. Therefore a wider scope of socio-economic impacts for the hosting regions and their communities are to be taken into consideration by future RI projects: impacts on demography, education and employment, local infrastructure and services, quality of life, regional development and environment.


RI Socio-Economic Impacts: Some Examples

Science, Technology & Innovation

•New services and opportunities for users and customers
•New knowledge and skills (scientific papers)
•New methods, techniques, and applications
•Mutual learning, knowledge exchange, spill overs
•Intellectual Property Rights
•New instruments and products
•Joint R&D projects with industry
•New science and innovation networks
•Opportunities for spin-offs and start-ups

Work & Population

•New directly and indirectly created jobs
•Increased economic activity by RI expenditure
•Training and skill development (scientists, general staff)
•Research training for students
•Career opportunities
•Highly-skilled workers for the labour market
•Critical mass and synergy effects with other facilities
•Life Long Learning opportunities

Quality of Life

•RI shaping cultural life and lifestyles
•Increased cultural diversity affecting attitudes and behaviours
•Better socio-cultural skills and language skills
•New medical instruments, diagnostics, treatments
•Improved community services (health care, education...)
•More public awareness of benefits from science
•Increased social cohesion

Ecological Environment

•New ecological knowledge, technologies, standards
and controls leading to improved sustainability
•Better services for energy, water, materials and waste
•Impacts on biodiversity of local habitats

In addition to the categories above, RI socio-economic impacts can be further characterized as short-termed or delayed in time, direct or induced, desired or unexpected, easy to monitor or "below the radar".

The opportunity for shaping the future and creating desired socio-economic (SE) impacts on the hosting regions and communities, as well as on Europe as a whole, can make fundamental differences if used sensitively in accordance with strategic principles. An open view for the different possible impacts may lead to better decisions and mobilisation of resources for building large-scale Ris.

Rifi Project Team