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Nearly a hundred people attended the online session organized by EU-CELAC WG on RI yesterday. The online seminar was an opportunity to learn about concrete experiences of formalizing collaborative relationships in research infrastructures, answering questions, pooling sensitivities and perceptions, and networking.

The session was opened by Jeroen van der Zalm, from the International Cooperation Service Facility of the European Commission, which presented the agenda and speakers and introduced the objectives of the session. The main objective, shared by speakers and attendees, was to learn concrete experiences to provide tools to generate stronger and more lasting RI collaborations, in particular in the case of the EU and CELAC. To this end, two actual experiences of formalizing collaboration in research infrastructures were presented: the case of Global BioImaging and the case of NCPs networks.

In the first presentation, Dr. Chris Wood from National Laboratory for Advanced Microscopy, UNAM, Mexico and Dr. Federica Paina, External Relations Manager Euro-BioImaging and GlobalBioImaging, brought to attendees the experience of formalizing collaboration between research infrastructures in the field of bioimaging. Bioimaging is a task that in itself often requires large investments in capital and belongs to a field of interaction between disciplines. This is why collaboration between different research centres and infrastructures had special potential.

Dra Federica Paina talked about the case of EuroImaging, a distributed research infrastructure on bioimaging with nodes across Europe (16 countries and international organisations). The key moment came in 2015, when an international bioimaging cooperation project funded under H2020 was initiated. This project resulted in Global BioImaging, an international network of bioimaging infrastructures and communities with nodes all over the world. The main objective of Global BioImaging is foster international cooperation and the common proposal of solutions, build capacity internationally and build a strong case that imaging tech and RI are key in the advance of science. With this objective, Global BioImaging promotes the exchange of experiencies, technical scientists and facility operators between its nodes, and provides training programs, staff exchange programs, thematic workshops and support with local funders.

Dr. Chris Wood shared the case of LNMA, UNAM, the first completely open-access microscopy facility, now expanded to three sites and that represents the Mexican bioimaging community in GBI. He highlighted that cooperation brought the realization that some issues and problems were near-universal, although they vary in scale and priority across the regions. Global cooperation has helped in find pathways to fight shared problems by solutions adapted to local conditions, and to strength the confidence in local bioimaging communities and in their ability to contribute to wider sector development. Now, an initiative to generate a regional bioimaging cooperation community at LAC is starting, Latin America Bioimaging. Latin America Bioimaging is just beginning its activities in 2021, and the introductory symposium will take place in March 2021.

The case of global bioimaging and the cooperation community it has created is an example of formalization of cooperation without going through legal bounds. The RI and communities that participate in GBI signed a Memorandum of Understanding committing to work together establishing common principles. This MoU included the definition of a purpose, objectives, membership procedures, management board criteria and functioning, and a commitment on diversity and inclusion. As Dra. Federica Paina indicated, collaboration was the goal and, in the case of bioimaging research infrastructures, the GBI MoU was the tool to achieve that goal.

The second presentation brought the case of the Latin American and European networks of NCPs, by the speakers Claudia Romano, from Agencia Uruguaya Cooperación Internacional, AUCI, Uruguay, Coordinator of LAC NCP Network, and Daniele Gizzi, RIs NCP and deputy coordinator of the RICH network, Agency for the Promotion of European Research, APRE, Italy. The National Contact Points (NCPs) are individuals and institutions defined (and funded) by their governments to provide information about European Research Funding programs. They provide guidance, practical information and assistance on all aspects of participation in Horizon 2020.

In the case of Europe, the initiative RICH2020 has created an European Network of National Contact Points (NCPs) for Research Infrastructures in Horizon 2020, as Daniele Gizzi explained. In this case, the elected tool was also a MoU, that the participants in the project have signed. Nevertheless, the project has also the area of Extended NCPs, to those to want to take part in the project but haven’t signed the grant agreement. 

In the case of CELAC countries, as Claudia Romano explained, 18 CELAC countries signed a letter of interest to institutionalize the LAC NCP Netwrok in 2017. The main objectives of NCPs in CELAC countries are to inform and raise awareness on H2020 promotional activities between RIs; assist, advice and train to increase the participation of CELAC researchers and RIs in H2020 projects; contact and cooperate with other network support services; and build a network between researchers from EU and CELAC research infrastructures.

CELAC NCP network collaborates and takes part of RICH 2020 under extended NCP, looking to foster the cooperation among EU and CELAC NCPs and RIs. Also, RICH2020 webpage allows transnational and virtual access to a constantly-actualised section that collects the currently open transnational services and calls of H2020. The objectives of both CELAC and EU NCPs networks were the same: improve transnational cooperation between NCPs, improve skills and professionalization of NCPs, increase awareness across the research communities about the opportunities for access to RI offered by H2020, and seek complementarities.

Following the presentation of these two cases of collaboration involving research infrastructures of CELAC and EU, Inmaculada Figueroa, from Ministry of Science and Innovation of Spain, was in charge of closing the event and making the final comments. After thanking the speakers for their interesting contributions and the interest that the assistance indicated, she highlighted some shared ideas. Those talked about the need of tools for formalization of the collaboration between RIs, such as the examples of the seminar. Formalization, Inmaculada said, provides sustainability, visibility and future prospect to collaborations that are positive for all its parts. Examples of the seminar show that this formalization does not necessarily have to be legally binding, as there are figures such as MoUs. The formalization of collaboration can bring stability to continue confronting the common challenges of RIs around the world. It is necessary to continue working to raise awareness among RIs and research communities worldwide about the benefits and tools for collaboration.