Knowledge Hubs | JPI OCEANS

Knowledge Hubs

Knowledge hubs are networks consisting of selected research groups and their scientists from JPI member countries within a defined area of research. This instrument is developed to contribute to optimizing research outcomes by facilitating the exchange of information among the actors, creating critical mass and avoiding duplications.

Context within the Toolkit

This analysis of knowledge hubs, as presented in the context of the current toolkit, is based on Knowledge Hubs (KH) developed in the framework of two Joint Programming Initiatives: Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change (FACCE) and A Healthy Diet for a Healthy Life (HDHL). FACCE set up the Knowledge Hub MACSUR, Modelling European Agriculture with Climate Change for Food Security, by launching a pilot call on "A detailed climate change risk assessment for European agriculture and food security, in collaboration with international projects", while HDHL adopted the Knowledge Hub DEDIPAC, Determinants of Diet and Physical Activity. From a purely quantitative perspective, MACSUR KH consists of 73 research groups from 17 JPI partners, with a total estimated cost of 15 million euros for 3 years, while DEDIPAC selected 56 applications, involving 160 researchers from 12 participating countries. On the basis of the survey carried out by the JPI to CO WORK4, other JPIs have been evaluating and planning knowledge sharing and networking activities, including the knowledge hub instrument. Both abovementioned experiences are pretty recent (the FACCE KH call opening on July 2011 and the HDHL KH opening on November 2012) but they represent a preliminary understanding of the Knowledge Hub as a new instrument for improving connectivity and networking.

Motivation and objectives

Following a mix between top down and bottom-up approach, the initiative of setting up a knowledge hub is based, on the above mentioned experiences, on the idea of defining innovative and best ways to collaborate, in order to boost research excellence to work together, going beyond the competition among teams.

In this context, the knowledge hub is described as an early instrument for the alignment of the national research initiatives, aiming at fostering and increasing the international cooperation, collaboration and communication among excellent researchers and research institutions. The strategic objective is to create a coordinated and visible European network bringing together the major European research groups to join forces and ultimately, to respond in a concerted way to scientific questions defined in the Strategic Research Agenda in order to tackle the challenges addressed by the Joint Programme Initiative and to increase its visibility and impact.

In a wider perspective, the added value of the knowledge hub instrument and its expected impacts can be summarized as follows:

  • Increase the scientific and technological excellence;
  • Facilitate integrating and transfer of knowledge;
  • Establish a critical mass in a given thematic area via networking of excellent researchers with complementary expertise, research facilities sharing, capacity building and training of new researchers as well as novel professional profiles development;
  • Make common research efforts and provide financial support over a longer period of time, allowing for more significant results;
  • Facilitate data access and data sharing;
  • Facilitate proactive studies, sharing standardized and innovative measures in specific disciplines;
  • Allowing long lasting and large base research, tools and methods for capitalizing results;
  • Enhance communication and visibility at European and international level;
  • Deliver knowledge for policy making, anticipate scientific and technological needs and provide efficient scientific support for strategic and political decision-making in the specific field.

This last aspect is the "product" of the HB, that is, they usually have a specific deliverable to provide.

Knowledge hub structure

The knowledge hub is a network consisting of selected research groups and their scientists from JPI member countries within a defined area of research. This instrument is developed to contribute to optimizing research outcomes by facilitating the exchange of information among the actors, creating critical mass and avoiding duplications. Each participating country is responsible for deciding which of its national scientists are eligible to join the knowledge hub and the funding it makes available to its selected members. Based on a selection process, the knowledge hub instrument aim at producing a well-balanced network of members providing all the expertise required to reach the defined goals.

Participants in the Knowledge Hub are research groups, represented by their respective organizations. Within the Knowledge Hub, one or several research organizations form each country participating in the KH call may join, while from each research organization one or more research groups may participate in the KH. Each research group is subjected to the rules and regulations of its respective national funding organization.

Key elements the research groups shall meet are the "excellence" and "capacity building" criteria. In details, it is required that research groups represent the very best expertise in the thematic area in question ("excellence") and have full institutional support by their organizations to enter in the thematic field, in order to develop skills and participate in an international cooperation ("capacity building").

The peculiarity of the knowledge hub instrument is the association of three complementary dimensions: research, networking and capacity building. For participating research groups, the hub in particular supports:

  • research: to perform excellent joint research in order to respond to questions arising from the JPI Strategic Research Agenda;
  • networking: to build a progressive long-lasting network in order to increase and facilitate transnational cooperation and coordination between excellent researcher, researchers' groups and research organisations;
  • capacity building: to prove the opportunity to develop research capacity, to join learning and training activities (e.g. mobility) and share research infrastructures.

The hub allows in particular researcher to join forces, to collaborate and to share expertise, results and data, infrastructures and develop research capacity. The network of researcher groups, once selected, is entitled to develop a joint research plan and to carry out joint integrating and multilateral activities. An initial pivotal task for the KH members is indeed to develop a programme of activities, including educational, training, research and integrating activities.

Governance and management strucuture

The procedure for establishing a Knowledge Hub is based on the call for proposals formula. The bodies usually involved in this process are the following:

  • Secretariat/Call Office

Responsible for the implementation of the call/invitation to participate, the call office is in charge of managing and administrating the call procedure (proposal submission, delivery call documents, evaluation, selection, etc.) under the supervision of the Steering Committee and the support of the National Contact Points at national level. It also acts as primary contact point for interested research groups for general information on the call. The partners of the call agree on the organization acting as secretariat. In the FACCE KH the Call Office was set up at the Research Centre Juelich/Project Management Group (JULICH), Germany, while in the HDHL KH Joint Action Secretariat was set up at the Project Management Agency in the German Aerospace Centre (PT-DLR).

  • Steering Committee

Composed of representatives of funding organisations, the steering commettee is responsible for making the final funding recommendation to the national/regional funding organisations on the full proposal and participating research groups to be funded (on the basis of the assessment and final conclusions of the Evaluation Panel/Evaluation Committee); making all decisions concerning the call procedures and their implementation. In the two experiences analyzed the number of representatives of funding organizations foreseen is maximum 2 per country.

  • Evaluation Committee/Evaluation Panel

Consisting of internationally recognized experts in the thematic area of the call, as well as in networking and/or management issues, the evaluation committee is in charge of the evaluation process, with the support of the Secretariat/Call Office and under the supervision of the Steering Committee. Under the DEDIPAC KH, the members of the Evaluation Panel are at first proposed by the funding organizations of each member state of the KH, (maximum 3 experts per member state) then voted and nominated by the Steering Committee (5 or 7). Funding organizations are entitled to send representatives to panel meetings as observers of the evaluation process.

Submission and selection procedure

Based on the topic and/or core themes identified in the Strategic Research Agenda, research groups are invited to participate in the Knowledge Hub through a specific call for proposal, published on the web-site of the JPI. The procedure foreseen uses two stages: at fist, submission of letter of Intent/expression of interest by research groups; secondly, submission of one Knowledge Hub full proposal by eligible research groups selected and invited to participate and to work together to submit one proposal.

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In the fist stage, research groups are asked to express their interest in joining the Knowledge Hub by submitting a Letter of Intent (LoI) or an Expression of Interest (EoI) to the call office or secretariat, via an online submission system, examples can be found for FACCE and HDHL.  In these documents, research groups shall underline their competences, their contribution to JPI goals and their potential activities in the hub in terms of research excellence and capacity building, but also their potential readiness to take the responsibility as coordinator of the hub or of specific sub-themes or thematic areas, when foreseen.

The selection of research groups and their appointment to become member of the Knowledge hub is based on a national selection process and should comply with general common selection criteria defined in the call. The national selection process is performed by the respective national funding organisations, while the final list of eligible research groups is then approved and validated by a Steering Committee, composed of representatives of funding organisations, on the basis on national evaluation results. The content and the overall quality of the LoI/EoI is checked for the coherence with both the general Knowledge Hub criteria and the specific national eligibility rules.

In the second stage, the representatives of eligible research groups are brought together in a "networking meeting", in order to work on the preparation of the Knowledge Hub full proposal. At this stage, only selected research groups are allowed to apply, by a pre-defined timeline and re-opening of the on-line submission system. Depending on national/regional rules, some applicants can be asked to submit a copy of the proposal and additional information directly to their national funding organization.

The assessment of the full proposal is made on the basis of a peer review process. The full proposal is evaluated by a panel of expert (Evaluation Committee or Evaluation Panel) and selected for funding by the Steering Committee. On the basis of the panel of experts evaluation, the Steering Committee can decide to finance the Knowledge Hub, not finance it or negotiate for changes.

In line with the knowledge hubs approach, in both stages of the evaluation the main selection criteria is the excellence of the research. Criteria for selecting the full proposal are defined in the Call for proposal text or in the annex, while the national rules shall in general comply with excellence and high quality criteria (of planned activities, of running and funded research projects of applicants, etc.), driving the Knowledge Hub approach.

All selected research groups and their corresponding organizations are supposed to finally sign a consortium agreement, regulating at least the governance structure, the decision making processes, duties and responsibilities, intellectual property rights, scientific reporting and monitoring. An example can be found here for FACCE.

 

Knowledge hub structure

The Knowledge Hub governance structure includes:

  • Coordinator

Based in one of the countries participating in the call, the coordinator is appointed by Knowledge Hub members, following the criteria identified in the call Annex. The coordinator has the overall responsibility and accountability for the knowledge hub 's general affairs and for providing its scientific and strategic leadership.

  • Thematic Area Coordinators/Leaders

Organized on the basis of defined sub-themes or work packages, thematic area coordinators are responsible for coordinating the activities in each sub-theme/work package, providing inputs and reports to the Coordinator in these areas.

Following this structure, the participants in the Knowledge Hub call are then expected to formulate the overall structure within the Knowledge Hub and between the Coordinator and the Thematic Areas Coordinators/Leaders in their proposal.

Funding

The commitment of funding is done before the launch of the call.

While the Knowledge hub proposal is submitted jointly by research groups from different countries, individual research groups and the scheduled research activities of each group are funded by their national funding organizations, according to their own national rules and eligibility criteria, and up-front an initial binding funding commitment. Funding organizations can finance new research activities and/or redirect existing funding/capacities, for instance an in-kind contribution, towards the need of the Knowledge Hub. Each participating country is responsible for defining the nature of funding (in cash funding" or in-kind funding) and the level of funding available to its selected members. Additionally, partners funding organizations taking part in the Knowledge Hub can agree to contribute via virtual common pot model to common "coordination costs"14. The nature of funding provided by each funding organization is explained in the "National Requirement" document, attached to KH call.

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As national rules apply, eligible costs may vary from country to country, according to the corresponding funding organization's rules. These costs can include personnel costs, travel expenses, consumables, coordination costs, training and capacity building (seminars, workshops, summer schools, etc.), communication and dissemination costs, indirect costs.

National regulations specifying eligibility and funding rules are included, as annex, in the Knowledge Hub call, together with the details of National Contact Points.

Challenges

When comparing Knowledge Hubs with network of excellences or research alliances, they can be particular effective when the topics or objectives are limited and precisely defined in their scope so that the countries and participants is restricted to a small number. In practice, the complexity of the process has to be reduced in order to guarantee efficiency and quality. A high number of possible involved research groups which can be reduced during the national selection will not ensure the level of "excellence" of the consortium achieved at the final stage, reducing the level of possible combinations and undoing the benefits of the competition. The flexibility of KH and the feasibility of the proposal could be improved if in the networking meeting also the funding organizations could participate to the debate, permitting the commitment of funding to be adapted on purpose.

 

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  • DEDIPAC Annex A Role Hub Coordinator
  • DEDIPAC Annex B National Regulations
  • FACCE JPI Pilot Action Call for “The FACCE JPI Knowledge Hub” on a “Detailed climate change risk assessment for European ag
  • FACCE MACSUR Consortium agreement
  • JPI A Healthy Diet for a Healthy Life (HDHL) Strategic Research Agenda
  • JPI A Healthy Diet for a Healthy Life (HDHL) Vision Paper
  • JPI HDHL Knowledge Hub on “Determinants of Diet and Physical Activity” (DEDIPAC KH)
  • JPI on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change (FACCE JPI) Strategic Research Agenda
  • Terms of reference Governance HDHL
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