03 Oct 2017   |   News

The science cloud: 3 ways to run the system

A Science|Business report outlines different options for governing the EU’s ambitious effort to build a ‘cloud’ for science

The European Commission’s groundbreaking plan for a ‘science cloud’ linking researchers across Europe is going to need to be managed with special care. A new Science|Business paper sets out three options for that.

The cloud project, begun last year, is a first-in-the-world effort to create a multinational system permitting access to research data from any lab or scientific discipline with just a few clicks. But the effort needs buy-in from policymakers and researchers across the EU – forcing the Commission to design a governance system inclusive enough for all key stakeholders to have a voice, but flexible enough to adapt to changing technologies.

The new Science|Business paper, called “Governing the European Open Science Cloud,” is based on discussions among an independent group of research, industry and policy leaders – members of the Science|Business Network. It is in response to a Commission declaration of July 2017, which calls for the EOSC governance framework to be co-designed, stakeholder-driven and composed of three main layers. Under the Commission plan, one layer would be institutional, including EU Member States and the European Commission; another would be operational, including a governance board and relevant working committees; and the third layer would be advisory, including a stakeholder forum.

The Science|Business consultation group looked at how other multinational initiatives are organised, from the Internet to earth observation systems. It identified 14 principles that should underpin any governance system for the science cloud. These include trust, transparency, accountability, inclusiveness, flexibility, pragmatism, efficiency, a global perspective and a strong focus on the needs of science.

Although the proposed Commission system would meet the objective of ensuring all necessary stakeholders have a voice, “there is a danger that a three body structure becomes cumbersome and difficult to coordinate,” the paper says. The paper offers two alternative methods – with one or two governing bodies. It doesn’t express a preferred option; instead, it analyses the pros and cons.

The issue may seem abstruse, but many analysts believe it could spell the difference between success and failure of the ambitious cloud plan. Conflicts could arise over how to standardise the technology, how to pay for the cloud services, and who will be allowed access to the system – either as a scientist-user or a company-supplier.  The EOSC is being incubated by the European Commission today, but it will ultimately need to be run by a robust, yet flexible governance structure that has the trust and support of the many different stakeholder groups required to make its ambitious vision a reality.