Inquiry proposes a new agency to collect digital infrastructure

Published: 2021-08-11

Piles of documents.

On 11 August, the government held a press briefing to present the results of the inquiry Organisation, styrning och finansiering av forskningsinfrastruktur (Organisation, governance, and funding of research infrastructure). The inquiry, which has been led by Tobias Krantz, proposes various ways to develop and support Swedish research infrastructure by, for instance, establishing a new public agency for digital infrastructure.

The inquiry was initiated on a government commission in May 2020. The directives were to give a broad overview of Swedish infrastructure for research, with the objective to guarantee that Sweden can maintain high quality research infrastructure and meet with current and future societal challenges. Among the suggestions that Tobias Krantz mentioned in the press briefing were the establishment of a single organisation of e-infrastructure for research, which he described as “one of the most pressing issues to address”.

—I'm of the opinion that there's a lack of a clear vision and strategy for digital infrastructures for research and their role in the digital transition. My conclusion is that we need to gather the digital research infrastructures in a single organisation. Today, they are spread over many locations, and we would have a lot to gain by joining these resources in a single place, he said.

A public agency with responsibility for research infrastructure of particular national interest and e-infrastructure

To establish a public agency for e-infrastructure has already been suggested in the report Inriktningsförslag för organisering av svensk e-infrastruktur för forskning (Direction proposal for the organisation of Swedish research e-infrastructure), which was presented by the Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions and the Swedish Research Council in spring 2020. It was then suggested that five organisations, including SND, should be merged. Tobias Krantz’ inquiry also demonstrates the benefits of a centralisation:

"…the inquiry [suggests] that there are reasons to develop the organisation of digital infrastructures to a more centralised form. The benefits of a centralised organisation are thus chiefly better coordination of planning and prioritising digital infrastructures, and a collected professional management and support on certain issues. In some respects, there are also economies of scale in a centralised organisational model.” (Stärkt fokus på framtidens forskningsinfrastruktur (Stronger focus on future research infrastructure), translation, original in SOU 2021:65, p.220)

Another option discussed in the inquiry is that the digital infrastructures could be part of a new agency with an even wider mandate. This public agency would have the chief responsibility for research infrastructures of particular national interest, as well as for e-infrastructure. Tobias Krantz means that it would be a solution that could better define roles and responsibilities in the research policy landscape.

SND Director Max Petzold reacts positively to the inquiry results.

—At SND, we welcome the inquiry’s proposition. For a few years we have had an increasingly close collaboration with other infrastructures, such as SNIC, SUNET and RUT, where we can come together to provide researchers with better service. If this proposal wins approval, we will be able to make even better use of the different resources. It’s also a good suggestion that the new agency should be able to manage research data with personal data for other public agencies. This is important to improve data sharing in a legal and ethical way, which is currently a challenge for us, he says.

The inquiry’s proposals, in short:

  • Develop political governance regarding research infrastructure.
  • A future agency for research infrastructure of national interest should be established.
  • Collect digital infrastructures for research in a public agency.
  • Strengthen the conditions for collaboration of higher education institutions on research infrastructure.
  • The MAX IV laboratory and SciLifeLab should continue to function as public agencies with a specific national responsibility.
  • Some research infrastructure of national interest should be considered a social investment.
  • Broaden the perspective of research infrastructure and increase the business sector’s opportunity to participate in both construction and use.
  • The new construction of an polar research vessel requires an increase in Swedish polar research ambitions.

Here you can read the inquiry report in full. (In Swedish only.)