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NEST — what's next?

Introduction

imageThe NEST (New and Emerging Science and Technology) initiative was a pilot activity in the Sixth Framework Programme FP6. It was specifically designed to support unconventional and visionary research with the potential to open new fields for European science and technology, as well as research on potential problems uncovered by science. NEST was designed to be flexible and interdisciplinary research was encouraged. There were no restrictions on the scientific fields to be addressed except that the research carried out under NEST should cut across or lie outside the thematic priority areas.

Below are the experiences and factsheets from 27 NEST projects which participated in a survey and a foreword by Director-General Robert-Jan Smits.

Foreword

It gives me great pleasure to present this overview of one the most forward-looking and successful initiatives of the 6th Framework Programme. Between 2000 and 2006 a total of 164 projects were funded under the New and Emerging Science and Technology (NEST) initiative. We can now take stock of their achievements and assess the relevance of the NEST approach for the future.

In many ways NEST was an initiative ahead of its time, focussed on developing the radically new ideas which will feed economic and sustainable growth, jobs and social progress in the long term – the very same issues that are now at the heart of the Innovation Union Initiative! The excellence of the work supported is beyond doubt. The 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics can be directly linked to the frontier research carried out under the SIBMAR NEST project. And 28 patents have arisen so far from NEST projects, demonstrating that much of the excellent research is also leading to innovative commercial applications.

A key feature of NEST was the non-prescriptive bottom-up approach, designed to unleash the creativity of researchers. The recent interim evaluation of the 7th Framework programme reaffirms the importance of this way of funding research. A recent stakeholder consultation shows that researchers would like to see this and many of the features of NEST adopted in the next phase of support for research, under the recently announced Horizon 2020 programme.

Horizon 2020 will bring all existing programmes for research and innovation together within a single framework. This new programme, which will come online in 2014, will support the whole chain from basic research through to innovative products and services that will stimulate growth and job creation in Europe. And, last but not least, single set of rules will make it far easier for those making groundbreaking research discoveries to take them forward to the market place.

Horizon 2020 includes a coherent set of actions dedicated to supporting the EU's science base, including European Research Council, with a reinforced budget, and a newlydesigned Future and Emerging Technologies activity that covers the entire spectrum of research in a manner very much like NEST.

NEST might have finished but its spirit lives on!

Robert-Jan Smits

Download the Foreword  PDF icon 700 KB



Experiences of 27 projects, which participated in a survey

  • Scope of the publication

The New and Emerging Science and Technology (NEST) initiative, an activity launched under the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) represents a success story for funding excellence and boosting co-operation. It bears the fruit of an exciting experience that involved almost 1000 research organisations in Europe and elsewhere. Its results are now available, the 7th Framework programme (FP7) is in full swing and a successor programme is under preparation.
Europe's leading technological and industrial position among other worldwide players, including USA and Japan but also the emerging economies, depends on its strengths in creative and visionary research. The importance of frontier research was acknowledged in the interim evaluation of the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7)1, which emphasised tackling interdisciplinary research through a bottom-up approach.
This publication presents, at a time when the EU programmes for the period 2014-2022 are being conceived, the results of successful projects funded under the NEST initiative (FP6) and, by means of a survey, gives a voice to project coordinators to express their opinions about their experience with this EU research initiative.

 

  • NEST Initiative

The NEST initiative was an innovative activity in the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) specifically designed to support unconventional and visionary research with the potential to open up new fields in European science and technology, as well as research on problems uncovered by science.  NEST was designed to be flexible and to encourage interdisciplinary research. There were no restrictions on scientific fields to be addressed except that research carried out under NEST should cut across or lie outside the thematic priority areas.

NEST in numbers

  • 39 Member States and Associated Countries were involved;
  • Participants from 997 organisations networked their knowledge and excellence, the average size of consortia was of six organisations each;
  • 164 projects were funded with a total EU contribution of 215 Million Euros in the period 2000-2006;
  • 28 patents resulted from funded projects.

 

  • Introduction to the survey

A survey2 among beneficiaries was launched in June 2010 to collect their feedback, with the aim of providing a broader picture of coordinators' experience with NEST. The survey has produced three main results: an overview of the answers of project coordinators (section 3), a descriptive summary based on qualitative information received (section 4) and the Project Fact Sheets (annexed).

Questions
The Questionnaire contained two sets of questions. The first set gathered from coordinators a summary of project goals and main achievements, with the results published in the annexed Project Fact Sheets.

The second set of questions collected the feedback of project coordinators:

  1. Could this investigator-driven approach generate new communities of interdisciplinary knowledge across Europe and foster collaborative research?
  2. How do you evaluate the NEST initiative? In comparison with other funding programmes did this approach succeed to give you the means to finance bottom-up activities in potentially revolutionary fields of frontier research?
  3. How can multi-partner vs. mono-partner research programmes facilitate bottom-up actions based on scientific excellence and develop the attractiveness of Europe as a research partner?
  4. Do you see the advantage in the freedom given to the researchers under the NEST initiative? Was this a helpful concept that contributed to the achievement of the project objectives by developing in particular project ownership and could this generate a positive impact on the results of the project?
  5. As a beneficiary of NEST do you recommend bottom-up research funding under future research and innovation Framework Programmes? How do you see the follow-up under FP7 of this multidisciplinary frontier research? What would be your recommendations and vision for structuring the future FP8 funding?

The survey covered the top tiers of projects that closed in the period 2009 through to the middle of 2010. It represents 31% of the total NEST population involving 173 organizations located in 21 Countries, Member States and Associated Countries. Fifty three percent of the project coordinators replied. The coordinators were located in 11 different countries: 5 leading organizations from the UK, 5 from Italy, 3 from Germany, 2 each from Austria, Finland, France, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and 1 each from Belgium and Spain. The 27 projects cover the different original calls from 2003 - 2005

Questionnaire analysis
Generally project coordinators expressed a consistent opinion on questions 1, 2, 4 and 5.

Eighty five percent of coordinators considered the scientific freedom given to researchers under NEST as an important asset, especially in fundamental research. They declared that the initiative helped to generate and keep alive many scientific communities across Europe, simultaneously fostering frontier research activities. Eighty nine percent of the coordinators agreed that the NEST funding mechanism was well designed to support frontier research especially when compared with national funding mechanisms.

Where the future of research and innovation was mentioned in the survey, 89% of the coordinators responded that frontier research should be supported at the EU level by similar initiatives to NEST.  The coordinators recommended multi-partner solutions, making use of the positive experiences gained with NEST.

 

  • Descriptive summary of replies

NEST values and advantages compared to other research programmes
Participants recognised that no other national or EU programmes could be compared to NEST, in particular as regards the international openness in terms of cooperation and competition, the bottom-up approach and the calculated tolerance of risk in research, all of which are NEST assets. In their view the NEST initiative represented an excellent and often unique opportunity to perform highly risky projects.

NEST was particularly valued because of:

  • its flexibility in adapting the project’s initial work programme to the evolution of research activities;
  • its catalytic action in merging multiple disciplines and the best brains from all over Europe and beyond;  
  • its significant degree of scientific freedom for researchers and scientists to deal with complex and challenging questions;
  • its well-structured organisational and administrative frame, enabling participants to stick to the defined objectives and deliver results; 
  • start-up funds being available to consolidate partnerships compare expertise and originate new discoveries on the basis of an interdisciplinary approach.

 

Furthermore, as NEST was targeting new science rather than demonstration it allowed the possibility to move within a domain without the obligation of producing immediately applicable results, but fostering genuine cooperation and competition among research teams.  The specific interdisciplinary approach was seen as generating interconnections between partners. It maintained NEST disciplinary specialisation while setting up the links needed for the subject area to evolve.

NEST beneficiaries expressed the opinion that predominantly multi-partner research experiences, driven by a bottom-up approach and by the scientific excellence of single partners, can bring valuable outcomes and improve Europe's attractiveness. Multi-partner programmes were perceived as being equipped to facilitate the resolution of complex problems by pushing research communities to overcome the boundaries of single disciplines or research areas. The opinion that multi-partner programmes favour cross-fertilisation and encourage more open-minded sharing of ideas and experiences was largely shared; both by scientific communities which already experimented "peer in excellence interaction" and by communities which interacted with emerging teams, based in countries with lesser traditions in frontier research or with less developed infrastructures.

Multi-partner programmes were also valued as offering academics and scientists the ideal ground to develop joint research publications, which consolidate their professional career, especially at international level, and to reinforce personal prestige. The possibility to be involved in excellence-driven research groups and to put forward joint papers, articles and publications was also considered a factor for attracting excellence from outside Europe.

In this context, what participants appreciated most were partnerships of relatively small size, agile and able to operate as "single integrated research team", even when maintaining specialisations and segregated expertise. However, they agreed that excellence should remain the unique criterion  for the setting-up of a consortium and the number of partners should not negatively impact on the management capabilities or on the decision-making process.

NEST supported a network in frontier research
The coordinators agreed that it is understandable from an economical, organisational point of view for research organisations in Europe to concentrate efforts on achieving excellence in one or more limited disciplines. However the consequence is the need to access common platforms to share results, coordinate efforts and reduce fragmentation. NEST was one initiative which played that role for the duration of FP6.

NEST enabled researchers to get together and share knowledge, methodologies, language and equipment. Encounters of well-diversified communities were animated by genuine enthusiasm and a certain consciousness of representing top level research organisations in extremely advanced sectors of scientific inquiry.

Balancing the support of cooperation and competition, NEST stimulated the development and consolidation of new promising fields of investigation. Given a broader horizon and well conceived European policies for research and innovation, these fields could also positively impact on industrial growth.

NEST increased the chances of research teams or individuals to obtain additional funds from national and international funding agencies as well as to liaise strategically with industries in order to develop market-driven collaborations. It also contributed towards boosting synergies among funds and programmes at international, European and national levels by interlocking different resources.

Some questions however were posed regarding the persistence of the new scientific communities set up via NEST collaborations. As highlighted by several project coordinators in the survey, the principal concerns are:

  • the lack of available and targeted funds to follow up additional findings, and obviously the difficulty to mobilise resources at national or regional level for the purpose;
  • the lack of time under the project to create effective cooperation among partners before starting the research activities;
  • the lack of highly specialized networking opportunities to facilitate the establishment of professional contacts and relations in view of setting up new consortia and projects. 

 

NEST rely on scientific community's freedom to explore futuristic options
The majority of those surveyed estimated the scientific autonomy they experienced within NEST as one of the key components in the success of their projects. Freedom to make scientific choices was perceived as indispensable in order to produce ambitious and visionary results. 

For researchers and scientists it is essential to adapt the work programme of a research project to its findings during its duration. In frontier research the work may yield unexpected results and it is crucial to have the possibility to modify plans, methodologies, objectives and even already established outputs. NEST demonstrated, in this respect, a high degree of adaptability and responded to the expectations.

The survey also highlighted how this scientific autonomy had an impact on the social dynamics among research teams; it sustained a positive and enthusiastic working environment and a spirit of adventure. Being a "NEST community" was felt to be a distinctive element and consortia were generally proud to benefit from a different regime, based on trust and recognising their status as excellent scientists.

However, participants also pointed out that the self-determination introduced with NEST did not necessarily counterbalance the administrative burdens, often described as "unnecessary", "time consuming" or “inflexible".  Participants felt under pressure to deliver according to the established timetable, diverting effort to administrative tasks rather than to research activities.  In parallel they recognised the necessity for the Commission to monitor spending, thus imposing common administrative rules.

According to their experiences, the role of the coordinator is seen as crucial to keep the balance between self-determination and performance, because they have to channel the efforts put in by the consortium into administrative obligations and the drive for discovery. This experience is supported by the outcomes of a NEST Specific Support Action, which identifies the role of the coordinator as a key success factor, thus providing evidence of the relevance of the "human factor" for a successfully executed project.

Future multidisciplinary frontier research - messages to the Commission
Not surprisingly, all 27 selected projects expressed their recommendation to see Research and Innovation Programmes similar to NEST in the future. They also would welcome a NEST follow-up Initiative targeting multi-partner consortia and multidisciplinary/interdisciplinary research.

Responding to the final question the coordinators' responses can be summarised in a set of messages to the Commission as follows:

 

  1. A NEST-like initiative is recommended to become a permanent research funding scheme, maintaining bottom-up and multidisciplinary approaches;
  2. A NEST-like initiative should fund open topics with a bottom-up approach, leaving the researchers themselves to propose  the combination of disciplines needed to achieve objectives;
  3. Mono-partner and mono-disciplinary activities, based on single research excellence, could be combined with a multi-partner multidisciplinary NEST-like approach in order to achieve the best results;
  4. A "follow-up" funding mechanism could be designed in order to capitalize on achieved results and to impact on innovation (changing a proof of concept into real application);
  5. The duration of projects could be extended up to 5-6 years for multidisciplinary projects; shorter project duration is not sufficient to evaluate the potential benefits and setbacks. A “3 + 3” option could also be envisaged with funding for the second three years only for research groups that demonstrate results;
  6. The setting up of new, strong research groups could be facilitated via the organisation of ad hoc events to enable talented scientists to network,  bringing brilliant and promising ideas to be shared within partnerships;
  7. Administrative procedures should be smoother and facilitate the transfer of changes incurred in the project's execution to the grant agreement level; 
  8. The degree of flexibility in personnel recruitment should be extended, in particular for the project start date;
  9. A two-step procedure to submit applications is favoured, suitable especially for wider consortia, to improve the quality of partnerships and not only for the benefit of content.

1 The Interim Evaluation of the Seventh Framework Programme Report of the Expert Group. The following response of the Commission to the Report of the Expert Group and Interim Evaluation Report of the European Parliament.

2 Methodology of the survey

  • Delimitation of the sample within the total population of NEST projects closed in the period 2009 through to the middle of 2010 and whose final reporting results were assessed to belong to the top tiers of outcomes;
  • Submission of the questionnaires to the selected sample (51 projects);
  • Collection of the questionnaires provided by 27 respondents (15 % of all 164 NEST projects);
  • Analysis of the questionnaires conducted with the support of a matrix putting in correlation for each project questions and answers;
  • Transposition of the investigation's results into a descriptive summary;
  • Preparation of the Project Fact Sheets.

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Factsheets

ANCIENTCHARM  PDF icon 235 KB

Analysis by neutron resonant capture imaging and other emerging neutron techniques: new cultural heritage and archaeological research methods

ARES  PDF icon 212 KB

Assembling reconfigurable endoluminal surgical system

BRAINTUNING  PDF icon 244 KB

Tuning the brain for music

CASPIC  PDF icon 283 KB

Cellulose architecture systems biology for plant innovation creation

CHLaSC  PDF icon 245 KB

Characterizing human language by structural complexity

CONTROL CANCER  PDF icon 182 KB

Developing a virtual and molecular control board for diverting cancer stem cell to non-malignance

CULTAPTATION  PDF icon 209 KB

Dynamics and adaptation in human cumulative culture

DYNAMO  PDF icon 281 KB

Design and functionality of non-linear electrochemical nanoscale devices

EC-Moan  PDF icon 230 KB

Scalable modelling and analysis techniques to study emergent cell behaviour. Understanding the E.coli stress response

EMBRYOMICS  PDF icon 176 KB

Embryomics: reconstructing in space and time the cell lineage tree

EMERGENCE  PDF icon 244 KB

A foundation for Synthetic Biology in Europe

GABA  PDF icon 154 KB

Global approach to brain activity: from cognition to disease

GEBACO  PDF icon 256 KB

Toward the genetic basis of cooperation

IDEA  PDF icon 309 KB

Imaging device for electrophysiological activity monitoring of neuronal cell cultures

MANMADE  PDF icon 145 KB

Diagnosis vulnerability, emergent phenomena and volatility in man-made networks

MINET  PDF icon 349 KB

Measuring the impossible network

MONAT  PDF icon 275 KB

Measurement of naturalness

NESTCOM  PDF icon 204 KB

What it means to communicate

NEURO  PDF icon 259 KB

Towards the neuronal machine

PARTICLE RISK  PDF icon 292 KB

Risk assessment for particle exposure

PECU  PDF icon 208 KB

Photon emission in crystalline undulators

SIBMAR  PDF icon 334 KB

Obtaining atomically resolved structural information on individual bio molecules using electron holography

SOMAPS  PDF icon 211 KB

Multilevel systems analysis and modelling of somatosensory, memory and affective maps of body and objects in multidimensional subjective space

SpiDME  PDF icon 262 KB

Spintronic devices for molecular electronics

SYNBIOSAFE  PDF icon 248 KB

Safety and ethical aspects of synthetic biology

SYNTEX  PDF icon 231 KB

Measuring the feelings and expectations associated with texture

Thales Was Right  PDF icon 300 KB

Transients in the Hellenic and Antilles, locii of earthquakes of European subductions: water, activity, structure and seismic risk illuminated by geophysical high-technology

NEST — what's next?

Introduction

imageThe NEST (New and Emerging Science and Technology) initiative was a pilot activity in the Sixth Framework Programme FP6. It was specifically designed to support unconventional and visionary research with the potential to open new fields for European science and technology, as well as research on potential problems uncovered by science. NEST was designed to be flexible and interdisciplinary research was encouraged. There were no restrictions on the scientific fields to be addressed except that the research carried out under NEST should cut across or lie outside the thematic priority areas.

Below are the experiences and factsheets from 27 NEST projects which participated in a survey and a foreword by Director-General Robert-Jan Smits.

Foreword

It gives me great pleasure to present this overview of one the most forward-looking and successful initiatives of the 6th Framework Programme. Between 2000 and 2006 a total of 164 projects were funded under the New and Emerging Science and Technology (NEST) initiative. We can now take stock of their achievements and assess the relevance of the NEST approach for the future.

In many ways NEST was an initiative ahead of its time, focussed on developing the radically new ideas which will feed economic and sustainable growth, jobs and social progress in the long term – the very same issues that are now at the heart of the Innovation Union Initiative! The excellence of the work supported is beyond doubt. The 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics can be directly linked to the frontier research carried out under the SIBMAR NEST project. And 28 patents have arisen so far from NEST projects, demonstrating that much of the excellent research is also leading to innovative commercial applications.

A key feature of NEST was the non-prescriptive bottom-up approach, designed to unleash the creativity of researchers. The recent interim evaluation of the 7th Framework programme reaffirms the importance of this way of funding research. A recent stakeholder consultation shows that researchers would like to see this and many of the features of NEST adopted in the next phase of support for research, under the recently announced Horizon 2020 programme.

Horizon 2020 will bring all existing programmes for research and innovation together within a single framework. This new programme, which will come online in 2014, will support the whole chain from basic research through to innovative products and services that will stimulate growth and job creation in Europe. And, last but not least, single set of rules will make it far easier for those making groundbreaking research discoveries to take them forward to the market place.

Horizon 2020 includes a coherent set of actions dedicated to supporting the EU's science base, including European Research Council, with a reinforced budget, and a newlydesigned Future and Emerging Technologies activity that covers the entire spectrum of research in a manner very much like NEST.

NEST might have finished but its spirit lives on!

Robert-Jan Smits

Download the Foreword  PDF icon 700 KB



Experiences of 27 projects, which participated in a survey

  • Scope of the publication

The New and Emerging Science and Technology (NEST) initiative, an activity launched under the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) represents a success story for funding excellence and boosting co-operation. It bears the fruit of an exciting experience that involved almost 1000 research organisations in Europe and elsewhere. Its results are now available, the 7th Framework programme (FP7) is in full swing and a successor programme is under preparation.
Europe's leading technological and industrial position among other worldwide players, including USA and Japan but also the emerging economies, depends on its strengths in creative and visionary research. The importance of frontier research was acknowledged in the interim evaluation of the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7)1, which emphasised tackling interdisciplinary research through a bottom-up approach.
This publication presents, at a time when the EU programmes for the period 2014-2022 are being conceived, the results of successful projects funded under the NEST initiative (FP6) and, by means of a survey, gives a voice to project coordinators to express their opinions about their experience with this EU research initiative.

 

  • NEST Initiative

The NEST initiative was an innovative activity in the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) specifically designed to support unconventional and visionary research with the potential to open up new fields in European science and technology, as well as research on problems uncovered by science.  NEST was designed to be flexible and to encourage interdisciplinary research. There were no restrictions on scientific fields to be addressed except that research carried out under NEST should cut across or lie outside the thematic priority areas.

NEST in numbers

  • 39 Member States and Associated Countries were involved;
  • Participants from 997 organisations networked their knowledge and excellence, the average size of consortia was of six organisations each;
  • 164 projects were funded with a total EU contribution of 215 Million Euros in the period 2000-2006;
  • 28 patents resulted from funded projects.

 

  • Introduction to the survey

A survey2 among beneficiaries was launched in June 2010 to collect their feedback, with the aim of providing a broader picture of coordinators' experience with NEST. The survey has produced three main results: an overview of the answers of project coordinators (section 3), a descriptive summary based on qualitative information received (section 4) and the Project Fact Sheets (annexed).

Questions
The Questionnaire contained two sets of questions. The first set gathered from coordinators a summary of project goals and main achievements, with the results published in the annexed Project Fact Sheets.

The second set of questions collected the feedback of project coordinators:

  1. Could this investigator-driven approach generate new communities of interdisciplinary knowledge across Europe and foster collaborative research?
  2. How do you evaluate the NEST initiative? In comparison with other funding programmes did this approach succeed to give you the means to finance bottom-up activities in potentially revolutionary fields of frontier research?
  3. How can multi-partner vs. mono-partner research programmes facilitate bottom-up actions based on scientific excellence and develop the attractiveness of Europe as a research partner?
  4. Do you see the advantage in the freedom given to the researchers under the NEST initiative? Was this a helpful concept that contributed to the achievement of the project objectives by developing in particular project ownership and could this generate a positive impact on the results of the project?
  5. As a beneficiary of NEST do you recommend bottom-up research funding under future research and innovation Framework Programmes? How do you see the follow-up under FP7 of this multidisciplinary frontier research? What would be your recommendations and vision for structuring the future FP8 funding?

The survey covered the top tiers of projects that closed in the period 2009 through to the middle of 2010. It represents 31% of the total NEST population involving 173 organizations located in 21 Countries, Member States and Associated Countries. Fifty three percent of the project coordinators replied. The coordinators were located in 11 different countries: 5 leading organizations from the UK, 5 from Italy, 3 from Germany, 2 each from Austria, Finland, France, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and 1 each from Belgium and Spain. The 27 projects cover the different original calls from 2003 - 2005

Questionnaire analysis
Generally project coordinators expressed a consistent opinion on questions 1, 2, 4 and 5.

Eighty five percent of coordinators considered the scientific freedom given to researchers under NEST as an important asset, especially in fundamental research. They declared that the initiative helped to generate and keep alive many scientific communities across Europe, simultaneously fostering frontier research activities. Eighty nine percent of the coordinators agreed that the NEST funding mechanism was well designed to support frontier research especially when compared with national funding mechanisms.

Where the future of research and innovation was mentioned in the survey, 89% of the coordinators responded that frontier research should be supported at the EU level by similar initiatives to NEST.  The coordinators recommended multi-partner solutions, making use of the positive experiences gained with NEST.

 

  • Descriptive summary of replies

NEST values and advantages compared to other research programmes
Participants recognised that no other national or EU programmes could be compared to NEST, in particular as regards the international openness in terms of cooperation and competition, the bottom-up approach and the calculated tolerance of risk in research, all of which are NEST assets. In their view the NEST initiative represented an excellent and often unique opportunity to perform highly risky projects.

NEST was particularly valued because of:

  • its flexibility in adapting the project’s initial work programme to the evolution of research activities;
  • its catalytic action in merging multiple disciplines and the best brains from all over Europe and beyond;  
  • its significant degree of scientific freedom for researchers and scientists to deal with complex and challenging questions;
  • its well-structured organisational and administrative frame, enabling participants to stick to the defined objectives and deliver results; 
  • start-up funds being available to consolidate partnerships compare expertise and originate new discoveries on the basis of an interdisciplinary approach.

 

Furthermore, as NEST was targeting new science rather than demonstration it allowed the possibility to move within a domain without the obligation of producing immediately applicable results, but fostering genuine cooperation and competition among research teams.  The specific interdisciplinary approach was seen as generating interconnections between partners. It maintained NEST disciplinary specialisation while setting up the links needed for the subject area to evolve.

NEST beneficiaries expressed the opinion that predominantly multi-partner research experiences, driven by a bottom-up approach and by the scientific excellence of single partners, can bring valuable outcomes and improve Europe's attractiveness. Multi-partner programmes were perceived as being equipped to facilitate the resolution of complex problems by pushing research communities to overcome the boundaries of single disciplines or research areas. The opinion that multi-partner programmes favour cross-fertilisation and encourage more open-minded sharing of ideas and experiences was largely shared; both by scientific communities which already experimented "peer in excellence interaction" and by communities which interacted with emerging teams, based in countries with lesser traditions in frontier research or with less developed infrastructures.

Multi-partner programmes were also valued as offering academics and scientists the ideal ground to develop joint research publications, which consolidate their professional career, especially at international level, and to reinforce personal prestige. The possibility to be involved in excellence-driven research groups and to put forward joint papers, articles and publications was also considered a factor for attracting excellence from outside Europe.

In this context, what participants appreciated most were partnerships of relatively small size, agile and able to operate as "single integrated research team", even when maintaining specialisations and segregated expertise. However, they agreed that excellence should remain the unique criterion  for the setting-up of a consortium and the number of partners should not negatively impact on the management capabilities or on the decision-making process.

NEST supported a network in frontier research
The coordinators agreed that it is understandable from an economical, organisational point of view for research organisations in Europe to concentrate efforts on achieving excellence in one or more limited disciplines. However the consequence is the need to access common platforms to share results, coordinate efforts and reduce fragmentation. NEST was one initiative which played that role for the duration of FP6.

NEST enabled researchers to get together and share knowledge, methodologies, language and equipment. Encounters of well-diversified communities were animated by genuine enthusiasm and a certain consciousness of representing top level research organisations in extremely advanced sectors of scientific inquiry.

Balancing the support of cooperation and competition, NEST stimulated the development and consolidation of new promising fields of investigation. Given a broader horizon and well conceived European policies for research and innovation, these fields could also positively impact on industrial growth.

NEST increased the chances of research teams or individuals to obtain additional funds from national and international funding agencies as well as to liaise strategically with industries in order to develop market-driven collaborations. It also contributed towards boosting synergies among funds and programmes at international, European and national levels by interlocking different resources.

Some questions however were posed regarding the persistence of the new scientific communities set up via NEST collaborations. As highlighted by several project coordinators in the survey, the principal concerns are:

  • the lack of available and targeted funds to follow up additional findings, and obviously the difficulty to mobilise resources at national or regional level for the purpose;
  • the lack of time under the project to create effective cooperation among partners before starting the research activities;
  • the lack of highly specialized networking opportunities to facilitate the establishment of professional contacts and relations in view of setting up new consortia and projects. 

 

NEST rely on scientific community's freedom to explore futuristic options
The majority of those surveyed estimated the scientific autonomy they experienced within NEST as one of the key components in the success of their projects. Freedom to make scientific choices was perceived as indispensable in order to produce ambitious and visionary results. 

For researchers and scientists it is essential to adapt the work programme of a research project to its findings during its duration. In frontier research the work may yield unexpected results and it is crucial to have the possibility to modify plans, methodologies, objectives and even already established outputs. NEST demonstrated, in this respect, a high degree of adaptability and responded to the expectations.

The survey also highlighted how this scientific autonomy had an impact on the social dynamics among research teams; it sustained a positive and enthusiastic working environment and a spirit of adventure. Being a "NEST community" was felt to be a distinctive element and consortia were generally proud to benefit from a different regime, based on trust and recognising their status as excellent scientists.

However, participants also pointed out that the self-determination introduced with NEST did not necessarily counterbalance the administrative burdens, often described as "unnecessary", "time consuming" or “inflexible".  Participants felt under pressure to deliver according to the established timetable, diverting effort to administrative tasks rather than to research activities.  In parallel they recognised the necessity for the Commission to monitor spending, thus imposing common administrative rules.

According to their experiences, the role of the coordinator is seen as crucial to keep the balance between self-determination and performance, because they have to channel the efforts put in by the consortium into administrative obligations and the drive for discovery. This experience is supported by the outcomes of a NEST Specific Support Action, which identifies the role of the coordinator as a key success factor, thus providing evidence of the relevance of the "human factor" for a successfully executed project.

Future multidisciplinary frontier research - messages to the Commission
Not surprisingly, all 27 selected projects expressed their recommendation to see Research and Innovation Programmes similar to NEST in the future. They also would welcome a NEST follow-up Initiative targeting multi-partner consortia and multidisciplinary/interdisciplinary research.

Responding to the final question the coordinators' responses can be summarised in a set of messages to the Commission as follows:

 

  1. A NEST-like initiative is recommended to become a permanent research funding scheme, maintaining bottom-up and multidisciplinary approaches;
  2. A NEST-like initiative should fund open topics with a bottom-up approach, leaving the researchers themselves to propose  the combination of disciplines needed to achieve objectives;
  3. Mono-partner and mono-disciplinary activities, based on single research excellence, could be combined with a multi-partner multidisciplinary NEST-like approach in order to achieve the best results;
  4. A "follow-up" funding mechanism could be designed in order to capitalize on achieved results and to impact on innovation (changing a proof of concept into real application);
  5. The duration of projects could be extended up to 5-6 years for multidisciplinary projects; shorter project duration is not sufficient to evaluate the potential benefits and setbacks. A “3 + 3” option could also be envisaged with funding for the second three years only for research groups that demonstrate results;
  6. The setting up of new, strong research groups could be facilitated via the organisation of ad hoc events to enable talented scientists to network,  bringing brilliant and promising ideas to be shared within partnerships;
  7. Administrative procedures should be smoother and facilitate the transfer of changes incurred in the project's execution to the grant agreement level; 
  8. The degree of flexibility in personnel recruitment should be extended, in particular for the project start date;
  9. A two-step procedure to submit applications is favoured, suitable especially for wider consortia, to improve the quality of partnerships and not only for the benefit of content.

1 The Interim Evaluation of the Seventh Framework Programme Report of the Expert Group. The following response of the Commission to the Report of the Expert Group and Interim Evaluation Report of the European Parliament.

2 Methodology of the survey

  • Delimitation of the sample within the total population of NEST projects closed in the period 2009 through to the middle of 2010 and whose final reporting results were assessed to belong to the top tiers of outcomes;
  • Submission of the questionnaires to the selected sample (51 projects);
  • Collection of the questionnaires provided by 27 respondents (15 % of all 164 NEST projects);
  • Analysis of the questionnaires conducted with the support of a matrix putting in correlation for each project questions and answers;
  • Transposition of the investigation's results into a descriptive summary;
  • Preparation of the Project Fact Sheets.

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Factsheets

ANCIENTCHARM  PDF icon 235 KB

Analysis by neutron resonant capture imaging and other emerging neutron techniques: new cultural heritage and archaeological research methods

ARES  PDF icon 212 KB

Assembling reconfigurable endoluminal surgical system

BRAINTUNING  PDF icon 244 KB

Tuning the brain for music

CASPIC  PDF icon 283 KB

Cellulose architecture systems biology for plant innovation creation

CHLaSC  PDF icon 245 KB

Characterizing human language by structural complexity

CONTROL CANCER  PDF icon 182 KB

Developing a virtual and molecular control board for diverting cancer stem cell to non-malignance

CULTAPTATION  PDF icon 209 KB

Dynamics and adaptation in human cumulative culture

DYNAMO  PDF icon 281 KB

Design and functionality of non-linear electrochemical nanoscale devices

EC-Moan  PDF icon 230 KB

Scalable modelling and analysis techniques to study emergent cell behaviour. Understanding the E.coli stress response

EMBRYOMICS  PDF icon 176 KB

Embryomics: reconstructing in space and time the cell lineage tree

EMERGENCE  PDF icon 244 KB

A foundation for Synthetic Biology in Europe

GABA  PDF icon 154 KB

Global approach to brain activity: from cognition to disease

GEBACO  PDF icon 256 KB

Toward the genetic basis of cooperation

IDEA  PDF icon 309 KB

Imaging device for electrophysiological activity monitoring of neuronal cell cultures

MANMADE  PDF icon 145 KB

Diagnosis vulnerability, emergent phenomena and volatility in man-made networks

MINET  PDF icon 349 KB

Measuring the impossible network

MONAT  PDF icon 275 KB

Measurement of naturalness

NESTCOM  PDF icon 204 KB

What it means to communicate

NEURO  PDF icon 259 KB

Towards the neuronal machine

PARTICLE RISK  PDF icon 292 KB

Risk assessment for particle exposure

PECU  PDF icon 208 KB

Photon emission in crystalline undulators

SIBMAR  PDF icon 334 KB

Obtaining atomically resolved structural information on individual bio molecules using electron holography

SOMAPS  PDF icon 211 KB

Multilevel systems analysis and modelling of somatosensory, memory and affective maps of body and objects in multidimensional subjective space

SpiDME  PDF icon 262 KB

Spintronic devices for molecular electronics

SYNBIOSAFE  PDF icon 248 KB

Safety and ethical aspects of synthetic biology

SYNTEX  PDF icon 231 KB

Measuring the feelings and expectations associated with texture

Thales Was Right  PDF icon 300 KB

Transients in the Hellenic and Antilles, locii of earthquakes of European subductions: water, activity, structure and seismic risk illuminated by geophysical high-technology