GLANCES OF THE LANDSCAPE: Energy sector’s infrastructures are a politically hot topic

Our blog series Glances of the landscape offers sneak peeks of the global research infrastructure landscape and the research process of the RISCAPE project. Sneak peeks are provided by the researchers of the RISCAPE project. It is time to take a look at the energy research infrastructure landscape with Jari Kaivo-oja, Marianna Birmoser Ferreira-Aulu and Mikkel Knudsen.

Picture: Steve Johnson / Unsplash

Since the RISCAPE project started in 2017, a lot has happened in the political atmosphere all over the world. Different political tensions have risen and at the same time, the urge to act in front of climate change has gotten stronger. Needless to say, the energy sector is in pressure.

“When the pressure towards the energy sector increases, so does the pressure for cooperation inside the sector”, says Jari Kaivo-oja, a work package leader of RISCAPE. He and his colleagues from the University of Turku, Marianna Birmoser Ferreira-Aulu and Mikkel Knudsen, are studying the energy research infrastructure landscape. One of their tasks is to find out how the cooperation possibilities look like throughout the landscape.

“The fact that the energy sector is very critical for many countries’ economies, reflects in their willingness to cooperate or open their operations to others”, Kaivo-oja says.

Looking from the European perspective, the team suggests the cooperation possibilities look quite different in different regions.

“For example, in the United States the cooperation possibilities do not look good at the moment. But it does not mean that it will always be like that. The time horizon for a research infrastructure is long. You have to be able to look to 20−30 years from now and develop the infrastructure patiently. This is why one presidency does not mean that all is lost”, Kaivo-oja explains.

The team sees that there might be fairly good cooperation opportunities between the European and Australian and Brazilian research infrastructures, for example. Especially in Australia, the energy infrastructures have a strong long-term financial commitment from the government and the RIs bare resemblance to the European ones. This would be a good starting point for cooperation.

You can not separate energy from politics

One good example of politics affecting research infrastructures can be found in Brazil. Marianna Birmoser Ferreira-Aulu visited Brazil on the turn of the years 2018−2019, coinciding with the inauguration of a new president. A president with significantly different policies than his predecessors.

“You would think that we need energy no matter if the government is left or right wing. But the effects of the new government’s budget cuts were clearly visible in Brazil. Even in the big and strategically important research infrastructures. When I went to do an interview in one energy infrastructure the employees, including the managers, were protesting outside and asking for their rights and if they have a job next year”, explains Birmoser Ferreira-Aulu.

She thinks that the experience was a good learning lesson.

“When we start cooperating with other countries we need to remember that the environment for the organisations there can be more vulnerable to the prevailing political situation. We should take into account that other societies can have more challenging environments than in the European Union.”

Big and small scale infrastructures

The team has studied around 25 energy infrastructures around the world. Infrastructures matching the right conditions can be found almost everywhere, except for the Spanish-speaking Latin America and Africa. The infrastructures vary in size and type.

“It seems that we have a bias towards nuclear sector in terms of large scale facilities. Often the facilities in renewables have less longevity and they are also smaller scale, which means they can not quite be considered as research infrastructures yet. In Europe, the energy sector’s research funding is now mostly going to renewables”, says Mikkel Knudsen.

Still, all energy infrastructures have national importance and many require high levels of funding for their operations.

“I was surprised to see that even though you are working with the kind of money that RIs usually are, you can be very inaccessible. We had difficulties even finding out some infrastructures’ managers names let alone their email addresses. If your external communication is not very open, then the frameworks and targets are not clear either, which makes cooperation rather difficult”, Knudsen says.  

Marianna Birmoser Ferreira-Aulu reminds that we need to keep an open mind.

“Organizations might operate in a different way than what the Europeans are used to but it does not mean that the European way is the best. If we wish to cooperate we need to keep an open mind. I would not say that difference is necessarily worse.”

Dr Jari Kaivo-oja is a Research Director and Adjunct Professor (Faculty of Sciences, University of Helsinki and Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Lapland). His special fields are foresight methodologies in sustainability analyses, in international energy economics, Big Data foresight, Industry 4.0 management futures and general societal development of globalization. He is the scientific ambassador of European Integration Studies-journal. He has been reviewer in 15 scientific journals, for example in the Sustainability and in the Energy Policy and in the International Journal of Sustainable Development Research.

Project Researcher MA. Marianna B. Ferreira-Aulu is a Futures specialist with a Master’s Degree in Futures Studies. Her background is in Social Sciences and Sustainable Development. She is interest in the connection between social, cultural and ecological aspects of development, and in how to move towards more just and sustainable futures. In addition to RISCAPE, Ferreira-Aulu works on projects related to Bioeconomy and Justice, Manufacturing 4.0, Futures of education and learning, and Food security.

M.Sc. Mikkel Stein Knudsen is a project researcher at Finland Futures Research Centre, University of Turku. He is working in the fields of energy research, foresight, and industry transformation for the Strategic Research Council of the Academy of Finland. He has participated in various expert- and advisory groups for the Danish government on energy policy and the national Horizon 2020-reference group for energy research, as well as acted as national contact point for other H2020 energy research projects.

GLANCES OF THE LANDSCAPE: “What was interesting, was the lack of interest”

Our blog series Glances of the landscape offers sneak peeks of the global research infrastructure landscape and the research process of the RISCAPE project. Sneak peeks are provided by the researchers of the RISCAPE project. It is time to take a look at the cultural heritage, digital humanities and language research infrastructure landscape with Professor Franco Niccolucci.

Picture: Mr. Cup Fabien Barran / Unsplash

“My background is strange. I have a degree in mathematics but something like 25 years ago I decided that I am interested in history and archeology. This is when I started to do applications of IT to these disciplines. I am still carrying out research in mathematical logic, which is a very useful skill to have for organizing the data about cultural heritage and archeology”, describes Franco Niccolucci, the work package leader in RISCAPE for studying RIs in cultural heritage, digital humanities and language domain.

Niccolucci and his colleagues’ task is to find out, how the research infrastructure landscape looks like globally in the mixed domain of cultural heritage, digital humanities and language. His own expertise is cultural heritage but on the other two domains, he is relying on his colleagues.

“We already know, how the European landscape looks like. There are two established RIs. The one in the language studies is called CLARIN and the one in the digital humanities it is called DARIAH. Regarding cultural heritage, there is not yet an existing stable research infrastructure. In my opinion, there are several candidates, though. Some of them are already included in the ESFRI Roadmap. But none have yet achieved the status of the European Research Infrastructure.”

The European RIs are taken as a model

For the research infrastructures, the operational environment in Europe is in a positive way unique, thanks to the structure of and work by the European Union.

“The political situation in Europe is unique in the world. For example, there are other federal states in the world, too, but they have adopted more competitive paradigms and not as collaborative ones as we have in Europe. We are very lucky, because we have the opportunity to create RIs which are transnational and have a high degree of collaboration. This is partly possible due to funding that is granted for joint efforts instead of individual academic institutes”, says Niccolucci.

One of RISCAPE’s findings so far regarding cultural heritage, digital humanities and language RIs is, that in many countries, the collaboration takes place in networks of institutions that are working on similar projects. But compared to the European RIs, the collaboration is not permanent or structured nor have they the direct funding. The initiatives are funded on project basis and not as something that is carried out continuously.

“The European RIs are, and should be, taken as a model, I think. It seems that people have started to realise that the European way of organising RIs is much better than to adopt competitive paradigms or collaborate only in networks. There are also positive hints that, for example, in the United States the National Science Foundation will fund joint projects of different institutions. Then there is this trend that many researchers or research institutes around the world will rather join the European RIs than the ones in their own countries, which highlights the appreciation towards them.”

The landscape did not offer many surprises

“I have been working in this domain for many years now, so the findings we had were not really surprising. We did not find RIs around the world that would match the ones in Europe. Still, having the confirmation on the role that we European researchers and RIs can play all around the world, is interesting”, states Niccolucci.

“It seems that cooperation, at least in my field, between the European and other RIs could be arranged by adding international partners, or perhaps networks, to the European RIs.”

In general, what was interesting in the findings, was the lack of interest towards the sector of cultural heritage, digital humanities and language. Niccolucci explains:

“Of course it was interesting, but in a negative sense, to note how little importance politicians and governments give to this sector, which then reflects also to research infrastructures and their development. But then again, there are regions for example in China which are putting great efforts and funds for studying cultural heritage, for example. They want to discover their past and it is important for them.”

Professor Franco Niccolucci is a Director in VAST-LAB, PIN – University of Florence. He is also the Scientific Coordinator at ARIADNEplus – PARTHENOS and Editor-in-Chief at ACM Journal of Computing and Cultural Heritage (JOCCH). At RISCAPE, he leads the WP 9: Landscape analysis of the international Cultural Heritage, Digital Humanities and Language RIs and initiatives.

GLANCES OF THE LANDSCAPE: Many environmental research infrastructures struggle with showing impact

Our blog series Glances of the landscape offers sneak peeks of the global research infrastructure landscape and the research process of the RISCAPE project. Sneak peeks are provided by the researchers of the RISCAPE project. It is time to take a look at the environmental research infrastructure landscape with Emmanuel Salmon.

Picture: Rawpixel / Unsplash

“In a way, I am lucky that I am in charge of mapping the environmental research infrastructure landscape in RISCAPE. In this field, there is a so-called ENVRI cluster, a community of environmental research infrastructures that have for long worked together. That was an easy starting point for our research”, says Emmanuel Salmon, a work package leader in the RISCAPE project.

The work started already in 2017. A couple of times a year, the ENVRI community organises ‘ENVRI weeks’ that gather the whole community together for a week to discuss, work and share ideas. Salmon participated in two of them.

“During the weeks, I met with heads of research infrastructures and interviewed them. The aim was to find out who are their partners outside of Europe, who are their counterparts and similar organizations they work or would like to work with. This is how I managed to gather a list of all, or at least many, possible interesting organisations outside of Europe.”

After this phase, Salmon had a list of 101 organisations in his hands. It was clear not all of them would fit to be a part of the analysis. Eventually Salmon ended up with about 50 infrastructures that met the RI definition set at the beginning of the RISCAPE project.

“I have now interviewed almost all these organisations in depth. It has been nice to notice that  people are happy to be interviewed, they are usually eager to talk about their organisation.”

The landscape is diverse

Already at this point of the study, it is evident that some countries have better abilities to run research infrastructures than others. This usually has to do with money.

“In Australia, they have a national roadmap for research infrastructures, which helps to drive the evolution of the landscape and make long-term plans. On the contrary, a Brazilian interviewee told me they are constantly struggling with funding and they can never be sure that they will still exist in five years. Japan is also interesting because they are quite sustained but organized differently. The research infrastructures there are all usually embedded in agencies that are very much government controlled”, says Salmon.

There are environmental research infrastructures nearly all over the world. Still, there are places that Salmon describes being ‘significantly underrepresented’.  

“In South America, outside of Brazil, I did not find any infrastructure that would have matched our conditions. So is the case in the Middle- and Far East. It seems that Russia is completely absent from the landscape. Although there are certainly interesting organizations there, they did not show up in discussions with the European RIs so we did not investigate the area. Continent-wise Africa is challenging, even though there are some developed research infrastructures in South Africa”, says Salmon.

Quite a lot of the environmental infrastructures studied in RISCAPE are distributed infrastructures that collect data which they then provide for researchers and other users. Usually, these RIs hope to provide information to support policy-making.

“Then there are of course infrastructures that maintain or make available instrumentation. Or infrastructures that operate more like businesses, like in the United States, for example.”

The challenge of impact

During the interviews, one theme especially caught Salmon’s eye: Almost every organisation is struggling with how to measure impact.

“What is universal, is that everywhere the funders, governments and other stakeholders are asking the research infrastructures to show their impact. This becomes tricky when the vast majority of RIs in the environmental science domain basically produce data. It is very difficult to show how the data can be translated into impact”, Salmon explains.

The ways for measuring impact varied across RIs. Some follow publications, some count the downloads of the data and some have carried out impact assessments. Salmon thinks sharing of best practices regarding the measurement of impact would be beneficial for most research infrastructures.

“This could perhaps be a topic in the RISCAPE final report. But this, of course, depends on whether there are similar or supporting findings in other domains, too”.

All in all, Salmon would like to see research infrastructures cooperate more than they do now.

“It surprised me how little these different RIs cooperate although they are tackling the same challenges everywhere. They do know each other but it seems that the regional barriers are still quite high.”  

Salmon thinks that the lack of cooperation rarely has to do with competition but more with practical questions.

“People probably have enough to do with their own things. Or at some point, different infrastructures have adopted different data policies, for example, and before cooperating you should be able to harmonize the data. And this is a huge work. Although it would benefit the whole planet.”


Emmanuel Salmon is the International Cooperation Officer and the Interim Head of Unit, Strategy and International Cooperation of ICOS ERIC.



RISCAPE wants to foster cooperation in the scientific community

RISCAPE is a three-year project to map the international landscape of research infrastructures. Where are we now? Project coordinator Ari Asmi answers.


Science often needs facilities and resources, which are usually quite expensive to build and maintain. This is why countries typically build them together. In Europe, these activities have been supported by the European Union. Naturally, these facilities are also built outside of Europe, but until now we have not had a very good idea on who is doing what.

Where would the best cooperation possibilities regarding research infrastructures lay outside of Europe?

“There is already a lot of collaboration between scientists and research infrastructures. Many scientists may have a lot of information in the issue, but the information is not collected in a consistent way. This is what RISCAPE is now trying to solve”, explains Ari Asmi

RISCAPE is not, however, trying to map all possible research infrastructures in the world. The project is concentrating on eight domains of RIs, outlined by the European Strategic Forum for Research Infrastructures (ESFRI): environmental, biomedical, physics and engineering, energy, astronomical and astroparticle physics, social sciences, cultural heritage, digital humanities and language and e-infrastructures.

“To guarantee a fruitful interaction, you should have some similarities within the infrastructures. Similarities in their operations and policies, for example. We use a definition of a research infrastructure in RISCAPE which assumes, that the research infrastructure should have science or research is in its core, it should be longstanding and its time horizon should be longer than just one research project. It should also offer services to users outside the infrastructure and reach scientific impact that is comparable from ESFRI landmarks or projects.”

So are there any interesting findings in the project so far?

“It has been interesting to notice, that what is considered to be quite normal in the European research infrastructures, for example, services to outside researchers, or support for international visitors, is not at all true in many other regions. This is something that the Commission policies and interaction in the international level might change in the future.”

Picture: Patrick Fore / Unsplash

“What is considered to be normal in the European RIs, is not at all true in many other regions”

The RISCAPE consortium participated the ICRI 2018, the International Conference on Research Infrastructures. The conference was a good opportunity to reflect on RISCAPE’s work so far.

Daniela Mercurio from APRE interviewed the RISCAPE project coordinator Ari Asmi about the progresses and results reached so far.

Watch the full interview here: