TEN SUCCESS STORIES FROM TEN YEARS OF SUCCESS: The Impact of NeIC
Year 2022 marks the 10-year anniversary for NeIC. To celebrate this milestone, we will publish ten stories that showcase how NeIC has contributed to developing best-in-class e-infrastructure services beyond national capabilities and enhanced the productivity of research in the Nordic Region.
The Nordic e-Infrastructure Collaboration, also known as NeIC, was established in 2012. NeIC facilitates collaboration on digital infrastructure within the Nordic countries and Estonia by providing experts coming from different countries, organisations and fields opportunities to work together. This Nordic collaboration on digital infrastructure had started already before NeIC was established. Since 2003, the Nordic countries have been collaborating on the Worldwide Large Hadron Collider Computing Grid (WLCG) at CERN, providing research computing and storage for high-energy physicists worldwide. The successful collaboration that started with the services offered by the Nordic Data Grid Facility (NDGF) was after some years expanded into NeIC, which was tasked to run the Nordic WLCG Tier-1 facility, also known as NT1. The initiation of NeIC made it possible to facilitate collaborations to benefit other science areas.
Since 2012 NeIC has grown in size and developed into an organisation with a mature and tested framework for collaboration. Based on the growth in budget and increased number of open call applications, this collaboration is valued and needed. Project partners report that NeIC brings value to them and benefits research and e-infrastructure collaboration by enabling knowledge sharing, increasing competencies and the quality of work and granting access to new competencies. Pooling of resources and expertise facilitates world-leading science and international collaboration in the Nordics and beyond.
How to measure NeIC’s impact?
For ten years, NeIC has had an effect on digital research infrastructure and institutions and communities working closely with it in the Nordic Region. Being a publicly funded organisation hosted by NordForsk, we are open about what we do and our achievements, and we always strive to communicate clearly the value that NeIC brings to its stakeholders and Nordic and Estonian researchers. This is not always easy because in most cases, the impact of our activities can not be measured in number of publications or users, unlike that of research projects or research infrastructures.
As a facilitator for research e-infrastructure collaboration, NeIC is expected to demonstrate its benefit and impact on society. To respond to the expectations of the national funding agencies and stakeholders, we produced a report that brings forward the various ways NeIC produces value and has had an effect both on national and international level. This report collects work done over several years and maps out the benefits it brings within and beyond the Nordic Region. The purpose of monitoring NeIC impacts was to find the relevant parts of how NeIC creates impact within and beyond the Nordic Region, and the report presents the methodology for and findings from the impact study.
When considering the impact of NeIC, we look at two aspects:
- The tangible outputs produced in NeIC’s activities that potentially create impact in the long term
- The creation of knowledge and competencies, synergies in the development work, the formation of new networks and the ramping up of international projects that is enabled through NeIC facilitating interaction between people, organisations and countries - the NeIC community.
The theory of change (below) provides a practical approach to structuring the impact evaluation.
In the context of NeIC, although monitoring the activities and outputs is often straightforward, the outcomes are also dependent on other factors. Showing an explicit causality whereby one of NeIC’s activities has created a certain impact is challenging both due to the long time that is often needed for impact to be shown, and to the fact that impact often needs several actors in order to be realised. Ultimately, the creation of impact is a joint effort.
The statistics used to study NeIC’s impact are related to funding, partners and project staff over the 10-year journey of NeIC. Background material also includes several self-assessment and self-reflection reports and policy documents. The software and services developed and infrastructure and resources provided by the NeIC activities enable excellence in science and benefit the region. However, the assumption is that NeIC also provides benefits, not only for those who participate in it as official partners, but also beyond.
To examine the benefits of the collaboration, a survey for the stakeholders of the activities was conducted in 2020. The survey was sent to the stakeholders of Nordic Tier-1 and nine NeIC projects that were ongoing in the autumn of 2019, excluding EOSC-Nordic that had started only recently.
Impact is born in activities and in the community
In the report, NeIC’s impact is considered from several points of view. Not only do NeIC’s activities have direct, tangible contributions to research and research e-infrastructures, NeIC’s value to the partners and participating countries extends beyond that.
There are three major ways NeIC benefits research:
- by developing and enhancing research software and technology;
- by offering services for research, both through Nordic Tier-1 and development project pilots;
- and by building competencies and promoting open science.
NeIC’s activities develop software, technology and processes, provide services for researchers, build expertise and promote open science. The report presents several highlights from activities that demonstrate that NeIC has responded to the needs of the Nordic Region, also to those laid out in the eScience Action Plan 2.0. The collaboration has led to concrete results such as services enabling cross-border sharing and analysing of data, increased competences, and building the Nordic consortiums to a level that enhances their capabilities for international collaboration – which was the case with the LUMI supercomputer. NeIC’s process for project management has also demonstrated that the project results will not vanish when the project ends but will deliver value also beyond the project.
The number of people associated with NeIC each year reflects the opportunities to learn from colleagues through interaction in technical projects and other activities, and this number has grown significantly from 58 in 2016 to 322 in 2021. The increase is not linear and the number has fluctuated over the years. However, the number of partner organisations in NeIC’s activities shows a consistent increase from one year to the next, from 15 in 2016 to 49 in 2021. Based on the results of the stakeholder survey, it is evident that NeIC brings value to the partners of the collaborations and benefits research and e-infrastructure collaboration by, for example, enabling knowledge sharing, increasing competencies and the quality of work and granting access to competencies the partners would not otherwise have.
The impact study concludes that NeIC has over ten years developed into an organisation with a mature and tested framework for collaboration. Nordic pooling of resources and expertise adds value by efficiently using national pools of e-infrastructure experts for operation and development and avoiding duplication of efforts. This facilitates world-leading science and international collaboration in the Nordic Region and beyond that could not be provided by the partners on their own.