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CONTEXT & VISION

We live in a digital world, where we rely on connected devices, like our smartphones, and make purchases through ubiquitous e-commerce platforms. The digital revolution has also changed the way in which researchers work; by 2025, it will have made a major contribution to opening science1 2 3. INRA has adopted an open-science policy: the institute is committed to deploying digital tools in all stages of innovation-focused knowledge production (e.g., defining research questions, producing and analysing data, disseminating knowledge, and creating and transferring innovations) and at all organisational levels (e.g., professions and skill sets, job evaluations, research and administrative management, the work environment).

Rapidly shifting research practices and questions

Describing, modelling, and simulating complex subjects: this is a research possibility that digital tools have made possible, which would have been unimaginable or impossible before. New scientific communities are being established, while others are rethinking the tools of their trade. Novel innovation frameworks are emerging. The general public’s participation in knowledge and innovation generation has taken on steam (see #OpenInra-4).
By 2025, data production will have accelerated, thanks to robotics, wireless sensors, imaging technology, and simulation software, and data sharing will be commonplace. Research infrastructures will have to make structural and technological changes. The techniques used for collecting and characterising data will facilitate sharing and reuse, providing a tremendous boost to the collective ability to research entire sustainable food production chains—from the farm to the fork—and their role in a world experiencing climate change. Stakeholder communities aiming to increase innovation, particularly in the service industry, will be able to access and exploit such data, thanks to INRA’s digital resources, e-infrastructures associated with research and experimental infrastructures, and associated services.
INRA will remain a major producer of analytical, experimental, and observational data and will continue to generate knowledge from the data it collects. This will not stop the institute from fulfilling its commitment to making its data open access—accessible to other stakeholders, regardless of whether they are also researchers—and to take better advantage of data produced by others. To accomplish these goals, the institute will have had to acquire and develop the tools and skills necessary to effectively manage digital resources and their potentialities.
As in the case of data, knowledge consolidation is enhanced when information is freely available to research institutes, universities, the general public, and the private sector alike. The wealth of academic publications is a valuable source of data that can be mined using modern tools for conducting literature and text searches. In the world of publishing, the digital revolution has had as significant an impact as the invention of the printing press: the publishing process needs to be rethought. By 2025, publishing will involve social networks; the different players—researchers, editors, educators, and the general public—will adopt different roles in the process spanning draft production, peer review, and open-access publication.

The analysis of massive conventionally or non-conventionally produced datasets, as well as the integration, modelling, and simulation of large quantities of data, require specific skills and access to powerful digital processing and storage tools. INRA researchers have a reputation for synergistically combining experimental and modelling approaches. This skill will allow them to tackle more and more complex subjects and pick up on the subtle shifts in scale that are revealed, such as food systems considered as a whole and within their environmental contexts or predictive approaches in biology.

In food systems, as in other domains, digital tools are becoming an essential catalyst for innovation. We are witnessing such advances as digital farming and open innovation platforms addressing environmental issues. The major players are changing, as are their networks. New stakeholders come from the emerging digital economy, from tech startups and tech giants that are stimulated by the rapid emergence of shared data. Services are being developed to help with data production. Data sharing requires specifying certain rules of use for intellectual property, especially to pre-empt any access-related disadvantages experienced by new and small-scale players.

Supporting change in research professions and environments

Applications for digital tools are numerous: data management, sharing, integration, and analysis as well as intensive modeling and simulation. The omnipresence of digital tools forces us to reflect upon our skill sets and our approaches to working individually and in groups. By 2025, the skills, professions, and work communities seen at INRA will have changed. The change will originate in the institute’s collective cohesiveness, as well as in its research appeal, resources, networks, and structure. By 2025, INRA employees will have become more comfortable with digital tools thanks to programmes providing exposure, support, and training. The organization of time and working conditions will have shifted to take advantage of this new context.

Evaluation procedures will have changed to account for new professions and new practices while still adhering to the basic principles used to assess targeted research: they will fully characterise the relevance, quality, and impact of well-conducted research that is both useful and shared. They will also recognize, consider, and quantify both academic and non-academic accomplishments, as future professions will likely straddle the frontier between data production and data analysis. They will also give weight to the research risks taken in such contexts as projects spanning different scientific communities or academic and public spheres. 
Ensuring consistent management across the institute’s different levels of organization is a challenge made even more difficult by budgetary concerns and the existence of joint administrative supervision with other institutions. To make and convey decisions as well as carry out analyses and disseminate results, all the decision-makers, from the project leaders to the senior managers, will have real-time access to reliable and relevant information on the resources and developments specific to their status in the hierarchy. The one-time input of carefully vetted data will promote simplicity and reliability; data integration will allow the deployment of support systems customised to each person’s needs and expectations.

1. Validation of the results of the public consultation on Science 2.0: Science in Transition http://ec.europa.eu/research/consultations/science-2.0/science_2_0_final_report.pdf
2. Science Ecosystem 2.0: how will change occur? https://ec.europa.eu/research/innovation-union/pdf/expert-groups/rise/science_ecosystem_2.0-how_will_change_occur_crouzier_072015.pdf
3. Open Science 2030 A Day in the Life of a Scientist, AD 2030 : http://ec.europa.eu/research/swafs/pdf/pub_open_science/open_science_2030.pdf