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GeoPolicy: How can geoscientists make the most of the Horizon 2020 programme?

GeoPolicy: How can geoscientists make the most of the Horizon 2020 programme?

As a geoscientist, I’m sure that you have heard of Horizon 2020, an EU programme that is allocating almost €80 billion to research and innovation over 7 years (from 2014 to 2020). This money is distributed throughout various scientific divisions and provides a plethora of opportunities for scientists, not only within the EU but also throughout the world.

Unfortunately, the magnitude of the Horizon 2020 programme has resulted in all the potential opportunities and openings offered to scientists, research institutes and innovators being difficult to navigate.

Luckily for you, this blog will outline some of the most relevant Horizon 2020 geoscience opportunities so that you don’t have to spend hours trying to map out the many existing options!

Horizon 2020: a summary

The Horizon 2020 programme follows the seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7), which ran from 2007 until 2013 with a budget of just over €50 billion. Research framework programmes were initially established by the EU to coordinate national research, pool research funding, increase knowledge sharing and reduce duplication.

Horizon 2020 aims to generate world-class science and technology to drive economic growth within the EU and be bigger, simpler and smarter than previous programmes. It consists of three primary research and innovation pillars:

In addition to these three pillars, there are two horizontal and three smaller programmes. These pillars and programmes are depicted in the figure below.

 

Horizon 2020 Structure. Credit: http://cerneu.web.cern.ch/horizon2020/structure

 

Each pillar and programme offers funding and opportunities that you may be able to access depending on the focus of your research. This blog will focus on Excellent Science as this is believed to be the most relevant pillar to the geoscience community.

Excellent Science

As you can see in the figure above, the Excellent Science Pillar has four primary components, all of which offer opportunities to researchers.

  1. European Research Council’s frontier research encourages high-risk, high-reward proposals in an attempt to generate revolutionary science and innovation by providing a number of different grants, including:

 

    • ERC Starting Grants: support talented early-career scientists (with 2 – 7 years of experience) who have already shown potential as a research leader
    • ERC Consolidator grants: fund researchers with 7 – 12 years of experience who would like to consolidate their independence or who would like to strengthen a recently established, independent research team
    • ERC Advanced Grants: empower individual researchers who have already established themselves as independent research leaders
    • Proof of Concept Grants: are secondary sources of funding for researchers who have already received an ERC grant for the frontier research project and now want to explore the commercial or societal potential of their work

2. Future and emerging technologies supports the following collaborative research initiatives that aim to extend Europe’s capacity for advanced innovation:

    • FET Open: funds projects that focus on new technologies and that are in the early stages of development
    • FET Proactive: seeks to establish a critical mass of European researchers on emerging, exploratory themes and ultimately build-up a new interdisciplinary research community
    • FET Flagships: fund 10-year initiatives that involve hundreds of European researchers who focus on solving an ambitious scientific and technological challenge e.g. developing uses for new materials such as Graphene

3. Marie-Sklodowska-Curie individual fellowships provide innovative research training, attractive career options and knowledge-exchange opportunities to scientists across all disciplines. Key opportunities within this fellowship that may appeal to geoscientists include:

    • Innovative Training Networks (ITN): provide up to four years of funding for a joint doctoral-level research training programme that is implemented by at least three partners from in and outside academia
    • European Researchers’ Night (NIGHT): is a Europe-wide public event dedicated to the sharing of science and engaging the public. The next NIGHT will take place on the 29thof December 2017 in over 300 EU cities. Find a NIGHT near you!

For information about science-policy fellowships and training opportunities you can also visit last month’s GeoPolicy blog on science-policy placements.

4. Research infrastructure (including e-infrastructures) aims to further European research infrastructure for 2020 and beyond. The primary geoscience related outcome of this Excellent Science component is:

As well as the opportunities within the Excellent Science pillar of the Horizon 2020 programme, there are numerous overarching initiatives, tenders and training courses which may be of interest to some geoscientists

  • Researchers are able to join the Horizon 2020 Database by creating a profile outlining their relevant fields and experience. Once registered, researchers may be called upon to provide expert advice and contribute to various projects, evaluations and policy designs
  • Scientists can also play a more active role by submitting a proposal through the Horizon 2020’s Call for Proposals. These calls are continually updated and require a collaborative approach with at least 3 organisations from different EU Member States or associated countries. Various EU partner search services are available for researchers who want to contribute to a project but who are lacking collaborators
  • The Horizon 2020 programme runs innovation competitions. These competitions revolve around prominent societal problems and offer cash prizes to whoever can find the most effective solution or best meet the defined challenge
  • Research institutes within widening countries may find the Spreading Excellence and Widening Participation scheme particularly beneficial. Primarily focused on Eastern Europe, it has several initiates that aim to ensure the equal division of innovation and subsequent social and economic benefits across the EU

Despite offering so many opportunities to researchers, the Horizon 2020 programme is not without criticism. Like almost all funding programmes, it is highly competitive.

The proposals submitted during the first 100 Calls for Proposals within the Horizon 2020 programme only had a 14% success rate. While not a surprising percentage, it is approximately 6% lower than the overall proposal submission rate success for the previous research Framework Programme (FP7). The grant and proposal style of funding has also been said to fuel the propagation of casual academic contracts. These casual contracts often result in high competition for positions and increased pressure on researchers due to the continuous tendering and application process.

The Horizon 2020 programme has released an Interim Evaluation Report which despite not mentioning the proliferation of casual contracts, did acknowledge the need for additional funding, intensified international cooperation and greater data accessibility. The Interim Report also highlighted the Horizon 2020’s successes including increased efficiency compared with its FP7 predecessor, scientific breakthroughs, the generation of economic growth within the EU and the strengthening of research infrastructure.

Research and innovation funding post 2020 is yet to be secured but potential for continued growth within the sector was discussed during the Research & Innovation – Shaping our Future conference and in the Investing in the European Future We Want publication.

For further information regarding the Horizon 2020 programme and other EU funding instruments, you can email the Research Enquiry Service or Horizon 2020 National Contact Points.

References 

Academia is now incompatible with family life, thanks to casual contracts: https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2016/dec/02/short-term-contracts-university-academia-family

European research funding: it’s like Robin Hood in reversehttps://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2014/nov/07/european-research-funding-horizon-2020

Horizon 2020 statistics: https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/en/horizon-2020-statistics

Science and Innovation Strategic Policy Plans for the 2020s (EU, AU, UK): Will They Prepare Us for the World in 2050?: http://redfame.com/journal/index.php/aef/article/viewFile/909/851

GeoPolicy: Science and the policy cycle

One way to improve the impact of your scientific research is to engage with policy. Doing so can create new opportunities for yourself and your research. The main challenges are knowing when and how to effectively communicate scientific results to policy. If the wrong timing or communication method is chosen then results are less likely to be incorporated into the policy process. This month’s GeoPolicy post takes a look at the policy cycle and how science can be included to strengthen this practice.

 

Why is the policy cycle used?

The policy cycle is an idealised process that explains how policy should be drafted, implemented and assessed. It serves more as an instructive guide for those new to policy rather than a practical strictly-defined process, but many organisations aim to complete policies using the policy cycle as an ideal.

 

Where is science involved?

Science can have a supportive role in every step of the policy cycle. In fact, novel scientific discoveries can sometimes be the instigator to forming new policies. The classic example of this is the ozone hole discovery in 1985 by British Antarctic Survey scientists, Joesph Farman, Brian Gardiner, and Jonathan Shanklin. After a series of rigorous meetings and negotiations by scientists, policy officials, and politicians, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was signed on 16 September 1987. Without scientific evidence the Montreal Protocol would never have been created.

 

What are the stages of the policy cycle?

The policy cycle is made up of roughly 6 stages and science can be incorporated into every step. How science supports these different stages are described below.

The policy cycle and where scientific advice can be given.

The policy cycle showing where different types of scientific advice can be given. Gif created at http://gifmaker.me/.

 

  • Agenda Setting: This step identifies new issues that may require government action. If multiple areas are identified they all can be assessed, or particular issues may be given a priority.
  • Scientific Input: As described above, new scientific results can be the foundation for forming new policies. Additionally, new focus areas can be anticipated through so-called ‘horizon / foresight scanning’ events that aim to identify emerging issues of policy-relevance.
  • Example: The government may want to increase energy production from renewable sources. This could be through increased solar panel production and usage.

 

  • Formulation: This step defines the structure of the policy. What goals need to be achieved? Will there be additional implications? What will the costs be? How will key stakeholders react to these effects?
  • Scientific Input: Science can be incorporated in this stage through Impact Assessments, which aim to comprehensively assess what effects will occur from a potential policy. These assessments can study multiple strategies to identify the optimum policy.
  • Example: Should governments offer tax-breaks to start-up renewable energy companies? Or should they offer individual subsidies to solar panel buyers? What might be the effects of these actions?

 

  • Adoption: Once the appropriate approval (governmental, legislative, referendum voting etc.) is granted then a policy can be adopted.
  • Science Input: Those in charge of approving a certain policy will often seek external advice that is independent to those who drafted the policy. Scientists can be called upon to offer advice within the decision-making process.
  • Example: A nation-wide policy can be implemented by the national government, but changing a law will require a vote in Parliament.

 

  • Implementation: Establishing that the correct partners have the resources and knowledge to implement the policy. This could involve creating an external organisation to carry out actions. Monitoring to ensure correct policy implementation is also necessary.
  • Scientific Input: Scientific advice can be needed to logistically support the policy being implemented. Scientists can provide methodological guidance to policy workers and advisory bodies who implement the policy.
  • Example: Administration processes to allow organisations and individuals to apply for subsidies / tax benefits need to be created.

 

  • Evaluation: This step assesses the effectiveness and success of the policy. Did any unpredicted effects occur? These assessments can be quantitative and/or qualitative.
  • Scientific Input: Scientists can evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of policies. This can be done independently or working with policy implementers.
  • Example: The UK and Germany introduced highly popular solar energy policies. Energy production at certain times of the day and year have substantially increased. Occasionally more energy is being produced than is needed, which now leads to further questions about how to handle the ‘excess’ energy.

 

  • Support / Maintenance: This step studies how the policy might be developed, or provides additional support for its continuation. Additionally, the policy can be terminated if deemed redundant, accomplished, or ineffective.
  • Scientific Input: As a policy is continued, scientific advice may be needed on an ad-hoc basis. Updated feedback can be given when needed to help maintain and improve policies.
  • Example: Even if a policy is considered a success, should it be continued? Should solar panel policies be continued, or should policies now focus on improving national electric grids, or should energy storage policies be developed instead?

Remember that scientists should only offer a supportive role to the policy cycle. They should present only the current state of scientific knowledge. Policy officials are the decision makers.

 

Policy cycle shortcomings

The policy cycle has been described as a theoretical concept that it not fully translatable to real world applications. Sometimes, some stages of the cycle are never delivered. Without scientists some of the stages are difficult to accomplish, therefore scientists are in a position to strengthen the policy cycle’s structure through expert advice and assistance.

 

Sources / Further reading

Policy Concepts in 1000 Words: The Policy Cycle and its Stages

GeoPolicy: 8 ways to engage with policy makers 

GeoPolicy: How to communicate science to policy officials – tips and tricks from the experts

The Ozone Hole

GeoPolicy: 8 ways to engage with policy makers

GeoPolicy: 8 ways to engage with policy makers

Scientific research is usually verbally communicated to policy officials or through purposefully written documents. This occurs at all levels of governance (local, national, and international). This month’s GeoPolicy post takes a look at the main methods in which scientists can assist in the policy process and describes a new method adopted by the European Commission (EC) that aims to enhance science advice to policy.

Contrary to what is commonly thought, science-for-policy communication can be instigated by both scientists and policy officials (not just from the policy end). Scientists are increasingly encouraged to step out of their ‘ivory tower’ and communicate their science to the glittering world of policy. During my PhD, I presented my thesis results to civil servants at the UK Government’s Department for Energy and Climate Change. That meeting was a result of me directly contacting the department with a summary of my work. Scientists should not feel afraid to contact relevant policy groups, although this is perhaps easier to do on the local / national scale rather than on the international level.

 

Types of policy engagement

Some of the commonly reported scientific evidence for policy methods are described below:

  1. Surveys: Government organisations may send out targeted or open questionnaires to learn stakeholders’ opinions on certain topics. This method is used for collecting larger sample sizes and when the general consensus and/or dominant views need to be known.
  2. Interviews: one-on-one meetings are commonly used for communicating science to policy officials; either by phone or in person. These provide opportunities for in-depth discussions and explanations.
  3. Discussion workshops: the term ‘workshop’ is loosely used when referring to science policy. It can describe a semi-structured meeting where no predefined agenda has been set, or the term can refer to participants systematically discussing a topic with specific aims to be achieved (Fischer al., 2013). Workshops can involve solely scientists or combine policy workers and scientists (examples of the latter at the UK Centre from Science and Policy). Workshops usually result in a written summary which can be used for policy purposes.
  4. Seminars: experts give talks on their research for interested policy officials to attend and ask questions afterwards. For more tips on ways to communicate science to policy officials please read May’s GeoPolicy post.
  5. Policy briefings: may refer to a several types of written document. They are usually written after a workshop or to summarise scientific literature. Briefings are usually written by so-called bridging organisations, which work at the science-policy interface. These documents can be relatively brief, e.g., the American Geophysical Union (AGU) have published several ‘factsheets’ on different Earth-science topics, or more detailed, e.g., the UK Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology (POST) regularly publishes ‘POSTnotes’.
  6. Reports: these are far longer documents which review the current scientific understanding. The IPCC reports are key examples of this, but it should be noted that any long report intended for wider-audiences should always contact a short summary for policymakers as they almost certainly do not possess the time to read full reports.
  7. The Delphi method: this less-commonly known practice combines both individual and group work and is supposed to reduce biases that can occur from open discussion platforms. Experts answer questions posed by policy workers in rounds. In between each round an anonymous summary of the opinions is presented to the participants, who are then asked if their opinions have changed. The resulting decisions can then draft a policy briefing.
  8. Pairing schemes: an alternative method used to bridge the science policy gap. This is a relatively new initiative but examples have occurred on the national (Royal Society and MPs paired together in the UK) and international level (EU MEPs paired with European-based scientists). These schemes involve an introductory event at the place of governance, which include seminars and discussions. Bilateral meetings are then organised at the Scientists’ institutions. These initiatives aim to help participants on both sides appreciate the different working conditions they experience. The EU-wide pairing scheme encourages pairs to work together producing a science policy event at a later date. This is still to be determined as the initial pairing only occurred in January.

 

Recruiting scientists

Different pathways exist for scientists to partake in these meetings. These include:

More commonly, scientists are contacted through the policy organisation’s extended personal network. This has been criticised as it can restrict the breadth of scientific evidence reaching policy, as well as it being not transparent. Under EC President Jean-Claude Junker, a Scientific Advice Mechanism has been defined, in which a more transparent framework for science advice to policy has been set out.

 

What is the Science Advice Mechanism? (SAM)

The Science Advice mechanism. Slide taken from presentation entitled “A new mechanism for independent scientific advice in the European Commission” available on the EC Website.

The Science Advice mechanism. Slide taken from presentation entitled “A new mechanism for independent scientific advice in the European Commission” available on the EC Website.

 

This mechanism aims to supply the EC with broad and representative scientific in a structured and transparent manner. The centre-point to this is the formation of a high level scientific group which will work closely with the EC services. This panel comprises seven members “with an outstanding level of expertise and who collectively cover a wide range of scientific fields and expertise relevant for EU policy making”. This panel provides a close working relationship with learned societies and the wider scientific community within the EU. Since its initiation is 2015 the panel has met twice to discuss formalising this mechanism further. The minutes for the meetings are publically available here. More information about SAM is available in the EPRS policy briefing ‘Scientific advice for policy-makers in the European Union’.

Previously, the EU had appointed a Chief Scientific Advisor, however this role was discontinued after 3 years as it was considered too dependent on one individual’s experience. A panel is thought to provide a broader range of scientific advice.

 

GeoPolicy: What’s next for the IPCC & how can early career scientists get involved? An interview with Valérie Masson-Delmotte

GeoPolicy: What’s next for the IPCC & how can early career scientists get involved? An interview with Valérie Masson-Delmotte

This month’s GeoPolicy post is an interview with the newly-appointed co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group 1 (WG1): Valérie Masson-Delmotte. Valérie is also a Principle Investigator at the Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement, Paris. In this interview she discusses how she balances her two roles, what the IPCC has planned over the next few years, and what advice she has for Early Career Scientists (ECS) wanting to get involved. The interview was conducted during the European Geosciences Union General Assembly (17-22 April 2016) and the interviewer was EGU’s Science Policy Fellow, Sarah Connors.

 

Background, career path and newly appointed role

SC: Hello Valérie, thank you for meeting with me. Could you first start by introducing your professional background?

VMD: Of course. I was trained in fluid physics (undergraduate). I did a PhD thesis on past climate modelling. I had a very easy career path – I was very lucky. I was hired just one day after my PhD thesis, where I worked in an emerging laboratory (the Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement). I stayed there but I changed my collaborations and research topics throughout the years. I switched to providing new information on past climate using ice core drilling. I have also been working on present day monitoring, with a particular interest in water molecules, using the same techniques we use to look at ice cores.

I have changed my daily work a lot. Always working with international collaborations – immediately starting with European-scale projects at a time when there was a drive to strengthen international collaborations. That’s a big characteristic [of my research]. Usually the people who work closely in my field are not found in my institution! They are spread all around.

SC: You have now been appointed Co-Chair of the IPCC WG1. How does taking on this new responsibility change your day to day working life?

VMD: I am currently doing two jobs at the same time. My main issue is stopping what I have been doing previously but still keeping a ‘foot’ within research myself. I am supervising students and I have a research project that started last January – so I will continue to be part of that. It can be hard.

I have urgent commitments coming as a result of my role in the IPCC, especially at the start of this process. But I am very keen to not completely leave my research activity totally, because that is ‘myself’.

SC: Have you been involved with any previous IPCC reports?

VMD: I discovered the 2nd IPCC report when I was a PhD student and I found it so interesting and useful for broadening my views. I used the third one for my teaching and I was a leader for the 4th one and a co-lead author for the 5th. I am very familiar with the inside process of producing the scientific part of these reports. I was very unfamiliar with the other side of the work: the science policy interface. So that is what I am learning now.

SC: Are there any striking differences with how you communicate science between your role at the IPCC compared to your academic work?

I have to be a scientist within this new role. I was elected to be a representative of the scientific community along with my co-chair Panmao Zhai, and we really share 50:50 the responsibilities. We are supported by vice-chairs from various countries. It is very important to have a broad, global coverage [of scientists] and not be biased towards EU geography. We collectively feel we represent the scientific community.

When [policy] decisions are to be taken, they are taken by the panel*. We do not tell them what to do of course, we just put the scientific facts on the table: our emerging results, our scientific analysis and we stop there.

*appointed and elected representatives from 195 countries

SC: So you don’t extend into advocacy?

VMD: I would not do that.

 

The next steps for the IPCC

SC: What’s next for the IPCC?

VMD: Last week, the panel has decided to organise three special reports. One on the value of 1.5 degrees warming, as a result of the Paris agreement in the UNFCCC. This will be done for September 2018. The schedule is extremely tight, we will have a scoping meeting this summer and we are preparing everything related to that meeting now.

It is a real mix of opportunities and challenges.

The two other reports are on climate change and the oceans and cryosphere, and one on a number of land-surface issues, which is a high interest assessment in the policy world as it will cover issues like sustainable land management and food security. It will also consider both adaptation and mitigation – some of these issues are quite politically sensitive. The ocean and cryosphere report is not just assessing the physical sciences, it will cover sustainability in the oceans and acting to preserve ocean ecosystems.

SC: Are the three special reports going to be published before the main assessment report?

VMD: Probably – certainly the first one. The other two will be done in parallel, which is a very heavy work load! Especially for the Technical Support Unit that we have just started to set up. Maybe people are not aware but all the facilities for the IPCC rely on only a few persons. There is the IPCC secretariat in Geneva within the World Meteorological Organisation and co-sponsored by the United Nations Environment Programme. It’s a small structure facilitating and organising all the processes with the panel. Then for the working groups, each Government from the elected co-chairs sponsors a technical support unit, which is made up of 5-10 people. It’s a very small number for supporting the work of hundreds of authors and thousands of reviewers.

We still have open calls for some positions now, and other position will be advertised next year. So check the IPCC website.

SC: You mentioned an upcoming ‘scoping’ meeting, what exactly does this mean?

VMD: A scoping meeting involves 70-120 appointed scientists who have been selected for this committee through an open call process. Scientists are selected so that we have the right range of expertise, renewal, experience and regional representatives. The outcome of this scoping meeting will be to define an outline for these special reports. This means a structure for each chapter and the key items to be considered. This is then presented to the panel for approval, where they can suggestion changes. This is how the science-policy process is organised at the beginning of the cycle. We have to do that for each special reports as well as the main assessment report.

For the main assessment report, work starting next year. We will probably organise consultations as a pre-scoping pathway to understand what end-users, the scientific community, and what all the stakeholders expect, as a way of engaging early-on in the process. This is to make sure that the topics assessed are what everyone wants to know about. Taking this into account is important so that it addresses the concerns of end users and policy makers, not just what scientists think are important. Then we will follow up with a scoping meeting and nomination for authors.

SC: What’s your biggest hope to be achieved from the next assessment report?

VMD: I have several. Firstly, it has to be rock solid: no mistakes – that’s a challenge to achieve given the workload. Additionally, the report must focus more on the regional aspect: looking at scales from global to regional and what emerging factors are found. Also, we may try to engage with social scientists, making the WG1 report more interdisciplinary. There could be a number of issues where their input would be valuable. I also want to increase the number of authors from developing countries – that is also a strong priority. Finally, we are considering changing the structure of the reports. The previous reports were organised by observations, process studies and observations. We may consider organising it by processes rather than a more separatist method. Most climate science research is not limited to just one area (e.g. just observations) there is normally both observations and simulations are all used to try to answer a question. These are ongoing considerations at the moment.

I hope that world renowned scientists will be eager to join and partake in this process.

The report has only the quality of the assessments done by the authors, which is then improved thanks to the review process That is really a strong improvement. It’s like shaping something – you know when you do sculpture? You have the first draft but the review really gives it a nice shape!

 

Advice to Early Career Scientists (ECS)

SC: If you had to give some tips to ECS on how to better communicate their research to policy workers?

VMD: I would suggest to train with teenagers.

My own experience is that if you are able to explain your research to high school students then you are able to explain it to everyone.

You have to keep in mind that policy workers are not scientists. Many of them do not have a science background, some do and many of the advisors do, but policy makers usually don’t. So it is really important to practice and when you do practise with teenagers, when they don’t understand you, you get very quick feedback! It means no judgement on high school students or policy makers but that would be my advice.

SC: Do you have anything you’d like to say to the ECS who read this interview?

VMD: I would encourage them to join the IPCC process. There are many ways they can do this:

  • Write excellent papers that we have to cite as we only rely on published peer-review literature. New papers, new ideas, new methods, that’s critical! And these come from the ECS usually.
  • We are now considering having chapter scientists to support on technical aspects like managing references, figures etc. This happened in 2nd and 3rd assessment reports but it’s complicated as it is unpaid. I have a mind of making these a duet – one from a developed country and one from a developing country. Maybe this could be an interesting option but it’s not decided yet.
  • Become a contributing author. Each assessment must change two-thirds of the authors so there are opportunities for bright young scientists.
  • And finally reviewing the report! It’s more work for us but it’s a way to be involved and it’s a critical step in the process.

This interview was recorded during the 2016 European Geosciences Union General Assembly, where Valérie was an invited speaker for a session on the science policy interface. More information on this session can be found here.

For more information on the IPCC then check out their website.