Riitta Maijala

Riitta Maijala: FIRI calls in spring 2021 also promote digitalisation of research infrastructures and the green transition

1 Apr 2021

High-quality research infrastructures play an important role in supporting national and international carbon neutrality objectives and protecting biodiversity. It is also important that we pay more attention to reducing the environmental impact of research infrastructures and realising the potential of digitalisation. The Finnish Government’s new Preliminary Recovery and Resilience Plan proposes additional funds for research infrastructures.

A high-quality research infrastructure is like a new bridge connecting an island to the mainland. Its services open up new opportunities for researchers to see more clearly, understand in more depth and test hypotheses based on scientific theories. Through their own services, many research infrastructures also support the development of skills and new services, including in businesses, hospitals and educational institutions. The best outcome is when children and young people, too, get the opportunity to familiarise themselves with how the infrastructure works.

Investing in research infrastructures is therefore, in many ways, investing in future opportunities. Science, education, innovation and the availability of open information sources to everyone are all promoted by the ability to cross that bridge.

Tracking climate change and biodiversity would be impossible without high-quality research infrastructures. They play a significant role in supporting national and international carbon neutrality objectives and protecting biodiversity.

On the other hand, constructing and utilising research infrastructures also increase the environmental load. That’s why it is important that one area of development in the Strategy for National Research Infrastructures in Finland 2020–2030 is responsibility and sustainable development.

Increasing data intensity, good data management, ensuring open access to data and the digitalisation of services also create new opportunities and challenges for research infrastructures.

Preliminary Recovery and Resilience Plan proposes additional funds for research infrastructures

In March 2021, the Finnish Government published a Preliminary Recovery and Resilience Plan (in Finnish). Its objectives to promote the green transition and digitalisation also fit together well with the Strategy for National Research Infrastructures.

If the Recovery and Resilience Plan is implemented as planned, the Academy’s spring 2021 research infrastructure calls will receive 20 million euros of one-off additional funding to specifically promote the green transition and digitalisation.

This potential additional funding will not affect the call schedules. The FIRI calls open on 1 April 2021 and close on 19 May 2021. The Finnish Research Infrastructure Committee will make the funding decisions in late 2021 and early 2022.

Additionally, if the Recovery and Resilience Plan is enacted, the Academy will open a separate call in 2022 to support the development of the local research infrastructures of higher education institutes and research institutes.

Finland will submit its final Recovery and Resilience Plan to the European Commission at the end of April. The final decisions on the allocation of funding to be awarded by the Academy will be made through supplementary budgets at a later date.

FIRI 2021 call documents have been supplemented based on the Recovery and Resilience Plan

Our previously published call texts and documents already accounted for digitalisation and the green transition based on the research infrastructure strategy and on national policies (Carbon-neutral Finland 2035 and Carbon neutral Finland that protects biodiversity). If the Recovery and Resilience Plan is implemented in such a way that the Academy is allocated 20 million euros of additional funding for these purposes, we are prepared to grant it in connection with this spring’s FIRI calls by supplementing the call texts. If the plan is not enacted, we will be able to grant approximately 30 million euros of FIRI funding in accordance with the original plan.

The structure of the action plan remains unchanged. We ask that applicants explain, for example, how the research infrastructure takes into account in its operation the required changes resulting from increasing digitalisation and data intensity, as well as the ways in which the research infrastructure will respond to these changes. The data produced by the research infrastructure can also be of significance to the digital transition in, for example, the development of service models that support new technologies or digitalisation and data intensity.

Similarly, the applicant can explain whether data produced through the research infrastructure has significance to the green transition. We are also interested to know how the actions taken as part of the planned project will affect the green transition through, for example, the construction of research infrastructure facilities, selection of energy sources to support research activities, utilisation of waste heat or the provision of remote access services.

To support the decision-making of the Finnish Research Infrastructure Committee, the international panel that will review the applications will also be asked to give separate ratings to indicate how well the applications consider digitalisation and the green transition.

The local, national and international significance of research infrastructures increases with technological and scientific advancement. The investments made in them usually produce impacts over the course of several decades. This is why it is important to pay more attention than ever to reducing the adverse environmental impacts of research infrastructures and to utilising the full potential of digitalisation.

We are very pleased that the Recovery and Resilience Plan recognises the importance of research infrastructures in supporting growth, wellbeing and environmental progress in Finland, the EU and around the globe.

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