CESSDA asks ten questions to Lidia Borrell-Damian
Lidia Borrell-Damian is the new Secretary General of Science Europe.
She started her position in September, after over thirteen years at the European University Association (EUA). She works closely with the Governing Board and the Member Organisations and will be in charge of implementing Science Europe’s strategy and leading the office in Brussels.
From 2014 onwards, Lidia Borrell-Damian was Director for Research and Innovation (R&I) at EUA, where she was responsible for the overall policy development and project work related to the area.
CESSDA asked Lidia Borrell-Damian to answer a few questions.
What do you see as Science Europe's main role?
Science Europe today plays a main role in “advocacy”, that is representing national research funding and research performing organisations’ views at the European level on EU research policy. It also plays a major role in fostering collaboration among Science Europe members.
As its new Secretary General, what are the three main priority areas that you will focus on over the coming months?
In the coming months and together with the recently elected new Governing Board we are going to work on a new 5-year strategy for the development of Science Europe. Naturally, we will continue our efforts in advocating the views of Science Europe members in the ongoing budget negotiations on Horizon Europe and its related policies. We will also support Open Science and important, related initiatives such as the European Open Science Cloud.
How does Science Europe view the further development of European research infrastructures, such as CESSDA?
As the scale and complexity of research continues to increase globally, Research Infrastructures (RIs), including data infrastructures (e-infrastructures), play an increasingly important role in research and innovation advancement. Research infrastructures are effective tools for international research collaboration and are thus a priority for Science Europe.
Science Europe is currently pairing up with the OECD Global Science Forum on optimising the use and management of national RIs. In the European context, Science Europe acknowledges that RIs, such as CESSDA, are of strategic importance in the context of the European Research Area (ERA).
What are key issues in the future European framework programme Horizon Europe?
First of all, we need to make sure that the EU pledges for an ambitious budget increase. The current political stalemate around budget negotiations is far from reassuring. And so far, the ongoing discussions at the European Council are not giving away any positive clues as to whether or not the EU will commit to investing in vital sectors such as Research and Innovation. We, at Science Europe, keep reminding EU decision makers that our common future is at stake. If we want to propose a suitable legacy to the generations to come, EU Member States need to agree on a budget that is at least equivalent to what the European Parliament has asked for (i.e. of at least €120bn).
In other words, we are stepping up our advocacy efforts so that fundamental research keeps a prominent position within Horizon Europe. This is crucial. Strong support for fundamental research is needed to keep and attract the best brains in Europe and offer them career opportunities. This will ultimately work to our benefit as citizens, in all sectors of our lives. Fundamental research is also key to developing and refining our understanding of the world around us, if we are to try and come up with solutions to current and future issues. What’s more, fundamental research paves the way for tomorrow’s innovation. This is why we ask that the European Research Council, the Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions (MSCA), and the Research Infrastructures be further strengthened.
Another aspect that we highlight at Science Europe is the importance of collaborative research. Collaboration is at the core of the Framework Programme. With a view of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and boosting European competitiveness, Horizon Europe needs to stimulate collaborative efforts across all EU countries. These are perhaps two of the most important challenges that we, as Europeans, are faced with.
What experience do you bring with you that will help fulfil the ambitions of Science Europe in enhancing European research and innovation capacities?
I bring with me an almost life-long career in research. After my first 13-year experience as a researcher and teacher in the university sector, I worked for two years in a company. I then went back to the university sector as research manager at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Spain, where I initiated my career in research management and policy.
In 2006, I joined the European University Association, where I developed internal dialogues between universities and policy advocacy to the EU institutions and research and innovation stakeholders. I believe that this combination of knowledge and acquired experience in different segments of the research and innovation system will contribute to fulfil the ambitions of Science Europe.
What role do national public funding agencies play in the move towards FAIR Data?
Research data are essential for the progress of research and their impact can easily go beyond their initial purpose. FAIR data sharing and thus allowing the reuse of research data not only allows the verification of research findings. It can also help to maximise the value of the original investment as the data can prove highly valuable to support new research.
FAIR data sharing requires good research data management (RDM) including quality assurance. Currently, there is a wide variety of RDM requirements set by funders and research performing organisations. These different requirements can cause confusion for researchers, especially when researchers are working in collaborative projects or receive funding from different sources. In order to provide more clarity and guidance for researchers, it is important to align RDM policies.
Together with its data experts, Science Europe has developed a “Practical Guide towards the International Alignment of Research Data Management”. We encourage our member organisations, both major research funding organisations and research performing organisations, as well as other research stakeholders to base their RDM policies on this guide. Aligned data management policies across organisations in Europe is indeed one of the most important steps forward. Our members are implementing the guidelines and a report should be issued early next year.
How can we convince researchers to share data and implement the FAIR principles? What would be a first step?
Open Science, in general, and FAIR data sharing, in particular, does enhance the quality of research by bringing about results that are both reproducible and accessible. But that is only possible if data are shared under the right conditions.
In order to ensure that these conditions are met, accurate planning on how to store and share data is necessary from the beginning of a research project. The development of a sound data management plan (DMP) at an early stage is therefore essential.
Nevertheless, still today, many researchers fail to see the advantages of data management and data sharing. They typically perceive DMP requirements more as a bureaucratic burden than a useful tool. If they are to be convinced of the benefits of FAIR data sharing, researchers need their institutions and funders to provide them with all the information and support they need to develop DMPs that will prove useful for their work.
Open Science developments such as FAIR data sharing are time-consuming processes that carry with them a lot of challenges and a general consensus around its positive effects is yet to be achieved. Such challenges need to be addressed jointly by all actors – researchers, their institutions, and funders alike.
You have had an international career working in Spain, Belgium, Canada and the United States. What main differences do you see in the nature of research collaboration and networking between Europe and North America?
There are many differences between the European and the North American way of collaborating and networking. To highlight one of these, I would say that, in general, in North America there are fewer legal constraints. In Europe, there are normally more, and they are different from country to country, or even from region to region. Despite this, researchers and people manage to collaborate in a very collegial way. I think this is an important part of the “glue” of European cooperation and development.
What place did you prefer to live in and why?
I liked all of the places where I have lived. Brussels is the place where I feel I can fully develop as a professional, and best contribute to this wonderful area that I call “scholarly discovery”. In my case, it means contributing to the development of science through fostering appropriate science and research policies. I love to see how scholarly approaches enhance the value of innovation and competitiveness, and how they contribute to culture and education.
If you were the President of the European Commission for one day, what would you decide or implement?
I would like to develop a series of programmes and actions aiming at developing a “negative-emissions society”. We of course need to evolve towards a sustainable “zero-emissions society” but we also need to clean the damage we have already done to planet Earth. This is essential to ensure a clean legacy to future generations. Research activity and policies must go hand in hand to achieve those goals.
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