The Commission proposed the European Research Area (ERA) in January 2000. It has since been endorsed by the Heads of State and Government, and is now the major research policy debate in Europe.
The ERA has been described by the commissioner Philippe Busquin as: "The development, at European level, of an area for the coherent and coordinated pursuit of research activities and policies, and an area in which researchers and knowledge move freely will encourage the expression of European excellence in several ways:
- First, by making it possible to establish a 'critical mass' of potential excellence, by networking the capacities present in different Member States, particularly through intensive use of information and communication technologies.
- Second, by releasing people and teams from the protection of national barriers, thus introducing competition and increasing the general level of excellence.
- Third, by attracting to Europe the best researchers from the rest of the world, in the same way that American campuses are currently attracting researchers."
By developing and strengthening contacts between different research cultures and laying the foundation for creating common working structures, the NET-TRACK project will contribute to the creation of a European Sustainable surface Transport Research Area, by moving towards a shared vision on scientific and technological issues.
The overall objective of the 'Networking transport research resources, competencies and knowledge within the new boundaries of European research area' (NET-TRACK) project was to exchange and transfer knowledge between different scientific communities working in the transportation field with the view to establish lasting relationships between these communities.
In particular, the project aimed to involve leading research institutes or universities of new Member States (NMS), Accession countries (AC) and Western Balkan countries (WBC) in European transport research area through:
- the exchange of experiences in 'research management', especially in the field of programme and project management, and in financing instruments;
- the exchange of best practices in 'soft' research infrastructures (such as databases, libraries, etc.).
The project was structured into five Work packages (WP), as follows:
Work package 1 - Mapping NMS, AC and WBC transport research institutions
This WP aimed at laying the foundation for the work to be undertaken in the Work packages 2 - 4 by:
- Identifying the potential partners in the NMS, AC and WBC countries;
- Analysing the characteristics of these partner institutions, in order to better target the activities of NET-TRACK;
- Contacting these potential partners to verify and complete the inventory of priority activities and information needs.
Work package 2 - Workshops on research management issues
This work-packages' activities aimed at organising a workshop on research management issues between the members of the NET-TRACK consortium and the targeted institutes. The objectives of this workshop were:
- Learning from each other's research management skills and traditions;
- Exchanging and transferring experiences in the field of programme and project management, notably on financing instruments.
Work package 3 - Workshop on 'soft' research infrastructures issues
This Work package addressed major resource research institutions relied on when carrying out the scientific work: the so-called 'soft research infrastructures'. 'Hard' research infrastructures like laboratories or test facilities were not dealt with in this project.
The soft research infrastructures include datasets, libraries and informational databases or networks. For the moment, this is a field particularly fragmented. ECTRI did an evaluation in order to define what kind of soft infrastructures are available within the ECTRI Institutes and how other member institutes can use the available infrastructure. This evaluation was brought into the NET-TRACK project to help determining which facilities are most suitable for co-operation and integration.
The specific aims of this activity were:
- To organise a workshop on soft research infrastructure issues;
- To analyse how these infrastructures are organised and managed;
- To share experiences and to lay the foundation for the possible harmonisation of the ways soft infrastructure are employed.
Work package 4 - Dissemination plan
The aim of NET-TRACK was not only to share the knowledge between the participants but also to reach broader public consisting of others institutions, research bodies, in
To accomplish the project's objectives, the project planned the organisation of two workshops on the subjects of 'research management' and of soft research infrastructures for the research institutions from the 18 NMS-, AC- and WBC-countries active in surface transport research. These workshops should allow European experts to meet and exchange about their research approaches, skills and traditions, their theoretical framework and their methodologies and to build up a shared set of knowledge in the two chosen issues.
Before arranging the workshops, an inventory of NMS, AC and WBC Institutions (including State-owned research institutes, universities, faculties, research institutes owned by industry, private consultants) working in surface transport research was preliminary made with the view to identify the potential partners and analyse their characteristics, as well as their needs in relation to research management and soft infrastructures issues.
The impacts of the NET-TRACK project have not only been seen as awareness and information exchange activities. These workshops also served the activities of the priority thematic area of European transport research area. i.e. encouraging transfer of knowledge and know-how and improving co-ordination between different scientific communities. By encouraging the participation of NMS, AC and WBC countries, ECTRI members initiated and facilitated future collaboration in various fields of research, in order to give a complete dimension to the intellectual and societal debate on the future of transport and traffic in Europe. NET-TRACK was instrumental in this endeavour.
The first Workshop on research management took place on 22 and 23 June 2006 in Budapest, Hungary, at the Mercure Metropol Hotel. It brought together 22 people, mainly chief executives and scientific directors, from 12 different countries (including 10 of the targeted countries).
The second Workshop on soft research infrastructures (SRI) took place on 7 and 8 June 2007 in Ljubljana, Slovenia, at Grand Hotel Union. It followed the same format as the first workshop. This workshop brought together 20 people, mainly people responsible or in charge of the development and management of soft infrastructures. Some researchers and executives also attended. At last, people from 13 different countries including 7 of the 'targeted' countries were present.