Human Resources in a Research Infrastructure

5.1. Introduction

A number of issues – legal, governance, financial, management, etc. – have a bearing on the establishment and management of a research infrastructure. All of them are important and need to be considered with much care and in considerable detail. But the role played ultimately by people underlies all these factors, and indeed goes to the heart of the effective success of an RI (as in every complex organization). Therefore, the management of Human Resources (HR) needs a detailed understanding, and often a specialist’s approach.

This chapter focuses on the people who are most closely involved with the facility. An RI is not a research facility without the people who are involved in operating and in using it (staff and non-staff), in a wider context we should rather talk about the “human factor” rather than “human resources” in order to delineate an area of activity and challenge for the RI-manager, which goes beyond the standard functions of an HR office and requires considerable strategic thought at the highest level of management.

The “human factor” in relation to RIs involves thinking about the special nature of international organisations and the very special environment needed to foster world-leading research (by excellent service to research). A correct HR management should aim at developing the right environment to fully develop the human factor.

As in all organisations, staff competence and motivation are the major assets for the success of an RI. The RI governance and RI managers of new and existing RIs must consider, already from the initial concept, how to plan and drive correctly the build-up and then the maintaining of the appropriate work environment, in the successive phases of planning, construction and operation of an RI.

It is obvious that several general rules for the proper management of human resources, developed e.g. in research institutions and/or in industry apply also to RIs. However there are some specificities linked to the nature of operations and to the type of funding and ownership which need to be underlined.

5.2. General framework

In dealing with HR issues, the aspects to be tackled along the whole lifetime of the RI can be listed (in a non-exhaustive way) as follows:

  • Construction of an organization chart understandable and acceptable by all people involved
  • Attracting and selecting the right personnel, with the needed skills and potential, along the planning of variable workloads.
  • Acquiring, by hiring, or secondment from other Institutions, hosting, training, …etc the personnel needed and engage it in the right activities
  • Defining/applying contractual frames, fixed/life term, remuneration/stipends/salaries and rewards, social security and contributions, pension schemes, prospective career, keeping track of total costs and evolution
  • Motivating, building team/corporate spirit, evaluating, retaining or planning for internal/external mobility
  • Career development and equal opportunities, perspectives, training and re-training, seconding to other Institutions…
  • Conflicts: between different skills/professions, with the management, mobbing, discriminations, overwork/burnout
  • Personnel representatives (technical or unionized), collective representations/negotiations, relations with external unions/associations
  • Families: joint employment of partners, housing, schooling, transport, language,…
  • Relationship and balance with non-staff, temporary staff, visitors, users, local citizens,…

To deal with all the above (and other unlisted) issues a wealth of different activities is necessary as pictured (again in an incomplete view) in Fig. 5.1 below:

Fig. 5.1 Human Resources activities

All levels of management and of course particularly the HR manager should be aware of the complexity of the subject, and of its intrinsic “human and personal” nature, and be able to follow and coordinate the various activities needed to respond. In general, according to the specificity of the RI, a number of topics will have to be considered as early as possible.

One particularity of the HR functions in many universities and research institutes is that, contrarily to the private industry sector, they are often a part of the administration and, as such, often considered as fulfilling mainly administrative functions (taking care of pay and associated benefits, applying rules and policies, following up employment contracts, organising training courses, etc). This approach may miss the strategic and important human dimensions of many activities, and cause a weak and inefficient use of the human resources.

Many research managers have a tendency to forget their major role also in HR, and the need to be supported and assisted by an HR department (or an HR reference person in smaller structures). Developing a real HR culture in a RI, well beyond the purely administrative dimension, is therefore an important objective. Also when there is a HR service and manager, the top management plays an essential role in the definition of the HR strategy and must be involved in supporting the promotion and dissemination of a HR culture at all levels of the organisation.

Reference models may be available from national or international research institutions, existing RIs or from the private sector, for instance in the area of defining the conditions of employment and staff rules, salary grids or remuneration policies. However, when defining these aspects, attention must always be paid on the RI specificity and on the way it will first be built and then developed and upgraded/redirected to improve the necessary service to users. This is different from a pure research lab, a university department or an industry and gives rise to the special challenges faced by RIs. The international aspect of RIs is arguably comparable to the international character and the need to combine dynamism with stability: this can also be found in a number of other organisations such as start-up companies and private R&D labs. RIs can also learn from the good practices of other organisations whilst reflecting on the qualities that, combined, make them unique places in which to work.

A further element of difference from other institutions is the fact that an RI can be part of a university or a national lab, or may be set-up by connecting/integrating parts of different existing institutions (e.g in distributed RIs) and, therefore, part (or all) HR activities and rules may be handled or defined outside the RI and are not flexibly adaptable, in particular when state employment (of different countries) is applied. The management of interpersonal tensions, when there are different employers and employment conditions, can be a very difficult exercise.

The management of all these aspects as an integral approach is most important. It may require tools also in terms of ICT, that allow employees' records, respecting the Confidentiality and appropriate keeping of personal information record is another important aspect.

In what follows the Handbook will try to address those aspects which are specific of the RIs. Many general aspects of the HR management have been addressed in several books: which are available in many countries but not all aspects are yet available in publications. One specific issue which has a general aspect when dealing with researchers and academics is the difficulty to adapt management tools which may apply in other environments. This is nicely described in a book with a self-explaining title: “Herding Cats: being advice to academic and research leaders” (ref.5.1).

5.3. Staffing and evolution during the facility life time

During the initial phases of a RI the number of staff to recruit in all categories may be quite important. Then in the operation phase, the number of staff will be stabilized. Generally the turnover of permanent staff in a typical RI is quite low, except if there are large numbers of retirements. So, apart from time-limited appointments for replacements, peak-loads or specific projects (for instance EU funded projects) a large part of the recruitment effort will be concentrated on scientific staff who are often recruited on time-limited contracts.

An important aspect in defining HR aspects is to take into account the successive phases in the life of the RI (see RAMIRI Training Slides: Serving the Users, slides 4 to 6). Staffs needed during design, construction, operation and finally decommissioning or upgrade/reorientation of an RI have a very different composition in skills, attitudes, ages and mobility. If this is not carefully planned and managed, there can be unwelcome surprises in terms of success and costs.

The correct planning and implementing of staffing evolution during the facility lifetime is one of the first bottlenecks met for new projects, when the team needs to be freshly assembled, and motivated against a number of difficulties and towards a long term uncertain outlook. In several RIs this is always a very challenging period, compounding the difficulty in the workplace (often in the middle of a busy construction site, in temporary buildings, and with difficult logistcs) to the difficulty of finding enough trained people and to mix them in the right mixture with junior newcomers while building a “corporate identity” from scratch.

There can be other difficulties when, later on in the lifetime of the facility, it will be necessary to adapt or radically change the mission, the habits and the direction, against the resistance of the “old handers” who will object that “things have always been made this (and not that, meaning the new) way”, this may require detailed and individual discussions with staff members and supervisors (which, by the way, may occupy a large part of the working time of the HR manager in all phases of the RIs lifetime).

The most important aspect is to develop, and to communicate from the beginning, a clear vision of the future long-term evolution of the enterprise and of the staff (evaluation and promotion, nature and evolution of the jobs and skills, career management, external and internal mobility opportunities, etc.). This vision must be shared with the staff when it is hired and throughout the lifetime of the RI (and this may mean repeating and refreshing it several times each year). In this context, the possible job evolution of staff has to be taken into account, given that the typical career lasts about 40 years, while an RI may last less. Decommissioning needs not only to be planned for hardware but also to be managed and prepared for a number of staff members….

External mobility should be encouraged, and connected to training of new staff, keeping a continuous overlap between old staff and junior trainees. The “flow of new blood” is one of the important elements in the well-being, flexibility and reactivity of the RI. Mobility with similar facilities in the same or different stages may help to maintain a fresh outlook and to benchmark the overall intellectual capital and in updating the skills. From this point of view, it may be essential to introduce, within the skills required from the beginning also from technical and administrative staff, “working English” (this meaning basic skills that allow dealing with procurement, design and legal issues at European and international level). This requirement is now commonplace in most industries that want to survive globalization, and may turn out to be an asset to have a larger turnover and exchange between the RIs and industry also at technical and administrative level.

Flexibility in the staff is one of the important aspects, difficult to achieve in Europe, where most employment contracts have to be unlimited due to legal constraints. The use of outsourcing, or collaborating and joining forces with similar facilities, is one way to keep flexibility, in particular in those jobs which are not critical for the know-how to be developed in-house. This is particularly important when addressing the “peak load” in the construction phase (see Figure 5.2 and 5.3), in which outsourcing and temporary contracts, or secondments from other facilities, must be used to avoid an overinflated long-term staff.

Fig. 5.2 Staff evolution during the lifecycle of a facility

Fig. 5.3 Externalisation (peak loads)

The transition from construction to operation can be a culturally critical moment for some of the best and inventive individuals. For example: Scientists will have to switch from designing-inventing new equipment and methods, to “serving” external users, Engineers and Technicians need to switch from designing and building new equipment to maintaining it while it grows older and not “sexy” any more, Purchasing staff needs to switch from few high value exciting procurements to a large flow of uninteresting and repetitive orders and utility contracts.

It is useful to have already in mind how to motivate these “talents”, for example by keeping a network of exchanges with other facilities, to refresh and update the know-how needed to manage a new project, if it is clear that some renovation and/or upgrade may be necessary and/or possible in a relatively short time.

5.4. Commonalities and differences in single site and distributed RIs, and in different countries - conditions of employment

The HR aspects listed in the general framework are common to single site and distributed RIs, but the framework to define some of these aspects can be vastly different. One main aspect in dealing with HR is the clear setting of the contractual rules between the RI and the staff. In a research institution or in an industry most of the staff is directly hired and employed and the relationship is rather clear. There may be differences between different countries, but general contractual employment rules are rather similar within each country.

This homogeneity can be the case for single site RIs, but not for DRIs (Distributed RIs), which, in most cases, will be composed by Partner Facilities (PFs) being existing Institutions (or parts thereof) where applied/applicable rules can be very different, and within different national legal frames as required, e.g. by an ERIC, unless additional specific agreements are reached at governments level. A special case is that of the organization set-up under international law allowing independent hiring rules, as in some of the EIROs, but this is a rare case, and as we have seen in Chapter 1, very unlikely to be reproduced. In RIs which are “true” international organisations the staff may be regulated by international pay scales and conditions of employment based on or deriving from European community, United Nations Organisation or other similar bodies.

In certain countries, employment law is designed to deliver a great deal of job security for staff, especially those within the public sector, and this may work against the development of a dynamic scientific workforce which is regularly refreshed by new staff and new ideas. At the ESRF, for example, some specific provisions derogatory to French Labour law, strictly linked to the international status of the facility, could be included in its creation convention, in order that they could offer some fixed-term contracts of up to 5 years to scientific staff without the obligation to convert all of these into permanent posts.

Some national laws may require working time directives which can prove challenging to research facilities, especially when involving continuous operation running outside normal working hours, including evenings and weekends. This may require incorporating, from the start, this provision into staff contracts from the outset and foresee applicable compensations for the presence and for the on-call duty.

Aside from the conditions of employment that are integral to the employment contract (salaries, working conditions, notice periods, duration and type of contract), in accordance with national laws and collective agreements, the employee’s overall remuneration package will be affected by pension, healthcare and social security provision. In many cases, these are completely or partially laid down by national schemes and there may be limited flexibility to vary these standard packages for certain members of staff (for instance, to allow the employee’s or employer’s pension contributions to be paid directly into a private pension plan). Attention should be paid that all staff, including young post-docs fellows and PhD students, benefit from a full social coverage. One relatively recent development is the possibility for the RI to join an EU based integrating Pension Scheme, which may get Community support.

In most cases contractual conditions and the remunerations in the Partner Facilities will be quite different, and will reflect past history of the Facility, in particular when the DRI is made up of existing facilities. This difference can be a tension generator, in particular between low and high pay rate countries. If there are very different pay scales, the mobility between the various sites may be an issue and a mobility policy will have to be developed carefully. Also the case of (high pay) international recruitment in low pay countries may cause a number of headaches.

The issue of the differences and barriers to mobility between European countries due to different rules is a major one and is being addressed in several ways, also by RIs and RI Associations and FORA (e.g. ERF/EIROFORUM proposal on staff mobility). It must be noted that this issue is widely addressed, and solved, by companies (both service and industrial) operating at European and global level, however the solution is mainly based on economic compensation, which are not easily applied in the public RIs environment.

Consequently, for DRIs, decisions will have to be taken on what can be common to all sites (for instance but not obligatorily: jobs and skills definitions/framework, grading system, mobility allowances, annual interview and appraisal system, career evolution, recruiting process, training program, …), and what is different for the different local rules (length/number of possible successive time-limited contracts, working time, elements of remuneration, benefits: like pension scheme, social security coverage, impact of taxation, etc). Obviously all these decisions need to be taken also in “single site” RIs, but, at least, there can be one solution for each aspect (unless the single site RI is planning to become, in the future, a DRI, e.g. by connecting to one or more “Partner Facility”).

As it will be clear from the issues detailed in the next paragraph, the HR management of a DRI composed by Partner Facilities embedded in different institutions, but, e.g., attached to an ERIC, will be particularly challenging, needing to build a “corporate identity” between people of different cultural and personal backgrounds. The HR manager (and/or the Scientific/Technical Manager of the ERIC) in a DRI will probably have to act more as an “animator” than as a classical manager, by organizing as many as possible “opportunities to meet and know each other” and work together for the various levels and skills in the overall RI, including technicians administrators etc. .

In this context the language and cultural diversities may be a challenge, but also an opportunity, and the aim should be that to have each staff member involved and finally “feeling at home” in each of the facilities. In this respect the “broken-basic English” will act as the Latin for the Scholars and Amanuenses who were finding a familiar environment in the different Abbeys/Libraries we have referred to in chapter 1. This problem is familiar now with many multinational companies and methods to tackle it appropriately are described.

5.5. Recruiting, staff evolution / career development / mobility, integration and support /attractiveness, equal opportunities, work/life balance

5.5.1. Recruitment

RIs typically employ three or more distinct groups of staff: scientific staff, technical staff (technicians and engineers), administrative and support staff. The contractual arrangements tend to be more flexible for the research staff, usually more mobile and which may have a larger ratio of time-limited contracts, while the tendency for the technical and administrative staff is to have most of them being recruited on permanent contracts (in particular in Europe). This is true both in a single sited RI and in each of the Partner Facilities of a DRI (both if the hiring is the same and if the hiring is national).

Attracting and recruiting good staff is only the first part of the process. Retaining the best staff over time, and remaining competitive against other recruiting international RIs, while at the same time ensuring some mobility (either internal or external) is a necessary second step. Staff development is therefore an important objective even for staff or scientist on time-limited contracts. Recruiting scientific staff poses a number of challenges, but international mobility of scientific staff in particular at early stages (PhD students, postdocs, fellows or young scientists) is a recognized factor of success and may even be a prerequisite in some places for a permanent employment.

The distinction between the three types of staff referred to in the beginning is not, of course, sharp: there can (and should) be some overlaps and exchanges in certain roles, and this is especially true in management positions, many managers were formerly scientific staff or engineers. However, it may be worth considering that many aspects applying to the recruitment of scientific staff will apply equally to the recruitment of senior management staff, because many of these people will have evolved their management career via or alongside their primary identity as scientists (or engineers), and because suitably experienced candidates for senior administrative roles may also often be recruited from outside the host country.

In addition to these three main categories of staff, there will very likely be a substantial number of PhD students, visiting academics and short-term users who are involved on site (in the case of a single-site facility) at any given moment. In the case of a physical facility that is under construction, or in certain functions (such as catering, maintenance), there may also be a number of staff from contracted firms. The HR resources manager should not limit his/her concerns only to the people directly employed, but to the overall “people ecology”.

Technical staff, like administrative and support staff, tends also to be generally employed under permanent contracts. In doing so, the facility not only provides them with a measure of security but also may gain an essential resource of memory-based know-how for the long-term, e.g. if there is a large mobility of the scientific part.

A research infrastructure of international importance will quite naturally seek to recruit the best staff according to its needs. The requirement to recruit internationally is driven by the desire to achieve scientific and technical excellence through the creation of a top class environment which welcomes new people, new user communities and new ideas in order to achieve further breakthroughs in science.

In principle all posts, also those for technicians and administrators (if the RI really aims at having an international character) should be advertised in English and internationally (this is useful also to pre-select the applicants). However, scientific staff is easier to recruit from outside the host country, than engineers, technicians or administrative staff. The latter skills are more likely to be recruited in the host country and often locally. This may reflect their different educational background, career expectations, language issues or family reluctance to move. Leading scientists or engineers expect to pursue an international career; this is largely less true of technical or administrative staff, unless there are strong links with international industry.

International recruitment requires to have a continuous perspective of future openings and to advertise the positions in a number of countries, making use of the appropriate media (the RI website, job web sites, scientific journals and specialised reviews (including electronic versions), EU portal, lists including national jobsites, similar RIs, research institutes. The use of social media and job fairs may be useful. The own network of scientists is also a good source of candidates as well as the users community. In some cases recruitment agencies may be useful for some management or senior administrative positions, but not particularly for scientists.

Whilst the facility may be entirely free to select the very best applicants, regardless of nationality, it may also be the case that this freedom is tempered – more or less explicitly – by the need to place particular emphasis on recruitment from partner countries. The original partner treaty or convention may include provision for staff ‘quotas’ on the basis of nationality or only recommendations on “juste retour” in term of employment, ideally in proportion of the funding effort. This objective can be justified by the training acquired in the RI and then brought back, resulting in the creation of competent communities in each partner country which later on will be able to develop national RIs or to promote the use of international ones. However although all efforts must be made to have applicants from the various partner countries, it is vital to select the best candidates, for the posts concerned, whatever their origin.

To take into account all possible outcomes and career development, as well as of those personality aspects which may be different from curricular achievements, the involvement of the recruiting officers or of the HR representative is considered as important, even for scientific staff (PhD students, post-docs fellows or researchers). They should participate in the screening of applications, in the interviews and in the evaluation panel of the candidates. They also play an advisory role to supervisors on how to handle new recruits. They should ensure the transparency of the process in particular in the area of non-discrimination and gender equity, employment of disabled staff, internal recruitment, etc…. In terms of appointment/interview panels, then the culture of the organisation can be made attractive to interviewees by the diversity of the interview panel.

5.5.2. Staff evolution / career development / mobility

An important element in staff evolution is related to the evaluation of performance by an annual (and/or multi annual) interview process which must be fair and open. It should allow defining and reviewing objectives with the individual staff, assessing the competences, foreseeing actions to upgrade them if necessary, discussing possible evolution, understanding possible difficulties, etc. In some cases this process is connected to some sort of recognition or prize, both in terms of visibility to the other staff (promotion, citation, or some other symbolic sign), and in monetary terms (evolution in salary grid or increase of salary, performance bonuses or one-off addendum). In this case there must be a clear forecast of the amount allocated to increases of remuneration in the yearly budget and its effect on long term should be taken into account.

When there is a small turnover of staff under permanent contracts, the possibilities of upward mobility are quite limited, at least until a large part of staff retires. This happens when most of the staff has been hired within a short period (e.g. during construction) and has similar ages. This may be frustrating, e.g. for highly qualified technicians. A good motivation can come from being involved in projects, technical challenges and new activities. This can help horizontal mobility which is not always welcomed by supervisors, but has to be encouraged, ensuring the right balance between external and internal recruitment. A possible compromise is to organize the RIs activities and staff in a matrix structure.

Apart from, or in the context of, transfers/change of functions, an efficient training and further education programme is a key element and a way to anticipate and prepare changes. It allows adapting and improving individual or collective skills for the present and future needs of the staff member or of the entire RI. It can cover a wide range of courses in technical, language, management and communication areas. The attendance at seminars, workshops and conferences is also, mainly for scientists (but not only) a good way of development, allowing exchanges and future collaborations and giving some visibility. Attention has to be paid to their availability to young scientists (and other staff) and to encourage them to attend.

As described in the Charter for the Employment of researcher and Code of Conduct, published some years ago by the European Commission, it is vital that young scientists are trained in soft skills (communication, management, project management, etc), in addition to technical/scientific areas, even if they are employed for limited periods.

Another key issue in HR is the quality and capability of management at all levels, in particular of persons being supervisors or coordinators of groups of people, which is not automatically connected to seniority or to technical or scientific qualification. There must be a training of managers at all these levels. Coaching and mentoring actions can also be useful to help managers confronted with difficulties or conflicts. Preparing staff (particularly those having a high potential) for possible management positions can be achieved by training courses, but will mostly require their own supervisors assigning them to projects or new responsibilities.

The need to retain staff and ensure continuity must be offset against the need for new people who can bring new ideas and deliver new scientific but also technical outcomes (e.g. in ICT or in EU legislation). In part, this is managed by keeping a balance between fixed-term contracts and permanent posts, thus ensuring that a certain turnover is maintained. The prevalence (where it is possible) of short-term contracts within the research sector has certain implications for the staff training and development. On one hand, training staff who is likely to leave may seem to be an inefficient use of limited funds, on the other hand this imposes a responsibility by the RI to train them so that they are able to move to new posts with a professional advancement.

There can be a number of indirect benefits that flow from the proactive development of staff, including reputational effects internationally (with an impact on the ability to recruit new staff), and the overall development of scientific staff which then moves to national institutions and industries, who benefit enormously from the expertise of staff trained at international or world-leading RIs. This can be an aspect of the overall socio-economic ‘return’ enjoyed by partnering countries and the host state, and responds to lowering the ‘brain drain’ of researchers from Europe as a whole. This also enhances the interest of countries and regions to attract, support, and host RIs.

The HR management should plan from the beginning and along the RI lifetime a “career development” connected to “mobility” both within the institution and to/from the outside (in a DRI this could also be between the different Partners). One further important element can be that of introducing, alongside all types of skills (also administrative!) the presence of junior persons (trainees and apprentices) and/or visitors. This helps the staff to evolve and to learn how to explain and transfer knowledge and skills, ultimately recognizing and developing their own potential. The availability of technical and administrative staff trained in an international environment is one of the items attracting the location of new industries, and increasing the visibility of socioeconomic returns.

There is always the need of keeping a balance between holding the valuable scientific, technical, and some rare international administrative competences, and losing them due to mobility. There is, in Europe, a tendency to have most knowledge informally embedded in people, differently from the USA, where a much larger mobility requires to keep a much more formalized know-how. In some cases, the excessive rigidity in holding the staff may cause its excessive growth in number, with the multiplication of “offices” “departments” “groups” “services” etc, each one being a specific “ecological niche” ever more impervious to external direction.

One countermeasure is to introduce a strong project culture, and organize the work as far as applicable in “projects”, and a in matrix structure to some organization (e.g. Elettra, ...), where one of dimension is the type of professional skills and the other the projects which bind together the needed different skills for limited and variable times. This approach has the advantage to achieve training and selection of project leaders and new managers, however it requires good HR capabilities, while, as said before, most RIs reflect the structure of public Institutions, where the structure tends to be pyramidal, and divided by tasks, more than by projects.

In this context, it should be recognized that there are always few specific individuals, in all types of skills (also technical and administrative) who have strong and inventive personalities, and others (not always the same) who are “opinion leaders”. To spot and understand both types of personalities and get their collaboration is often a winning move for the HR manager.

Mobility of the scientific staff is always somewhat easier, in particular towards academic-higher education environments. This can help building a strong connection with the University and institutional environment, and provide an inflow of good junior students. On the other hand, managing the scientific staff must be careful. Antagonizing with any imposed management and leadership can be a common reaction. The feeling of the facility directors and HR managers may happen to be that of Herding Cats (ref.5.1), as referred to before.

Another issue with the scientific staff will be, during operation, to find the right balance between “in house research” and “service”, to keep them updated in the best developments in science and instrumental techniques, while avoiding that the service becomes less acceptable. The possibility for the researchers to use a world class facility for in-house research projects and for peer review experiments is a definite asset. An important feature, in this respect, is the collaboration between users and staff which “may” (but should not become a “must”) result in joint publications and increased academic career perspectives. One of the main aspects of a correct HR management of the scientific staff is to find out about all these dynamics and manage them for best results satisfying both the mission of the RI and the staff itself.

5.5.3. Integration and support - attractiveness

The RI location can be another issue to be taken into account by HR. It can be very attractive (e.g. in or near a large metropolitan area or in a quiet well run campus), but also very far and difficult to connect and not very well equipped in terms of social and facilities (housing, shopping, schooling etc.) In some cases, internationally-recruited staff may feel that they are disadvantaged by working outside their original country because their period of employment in another country creates a ‘gap’ in their social security or pension contributions, although mobility within the European Union is facilitated by the EU regulations on Social Security.

There are a number of possible remedies to this kind of problem, but each will carry certain disadvantages. There is, of course, the possibility to enhance an overall remuneration package for expatriate staff or staff recruited from outside the RI area, either in relation to a particular aspect of remuneration (eg. pension) or a particular cost (eg. relocating), or simply as a general enhancement designed to cover one or more of these aspects in a more general way (expatriation packages). Such enhancements might be made possible for a limited period only, or on a permanent basis. Choosing to enhance the salaries or benefits of certain members of staff may, in addition to being expensive, also create pay inequalities which could be questioned either by other staff, by unions or by national system officials. If not properly justified, this can even lead to claims for discrimination in front of national and European Court

In designing such packages, RIs should be extremely cautious and consider the limitations deriving from National or European laws. It is recommended that additional benefits for expatriate staff be based on residence criteria and not on nationality and the reasons for any difference of treatment with host country staff members should be clearly explained in appropriate documents.

To list a few of the questions which may arise: Type of benefits? Eligibility? Differentiated or unique amounts? One-off sum, or regular payment for a limited period, or for the whole period of employment? Case of succession of contracts? Fixed sums or percentage of salary? Impact of the family status? Other fringe benefits (travels, time-off?, etc.).

The RI should define its induction policies for all new staff, including international staff – and put aside budget to enable the delivery of these policies, accordingly. In almost every instance, starting a new job entails a certain amount of formalities and time in particular when it is linked to a change of residence. This is accentuated in the case of staff coming from abroad and when the staff member and his spouse do not speak the host country language. RIs may use relocation agencies (as an alternative to HR staff) which will help new staff to find accommodation and fulfill all related formalities.

The HR department will take care of visas and work permits/residence cards processes which are now limited to non EU staff. It will handle, provide support and orientation in many other fields (social security and other benefits, tax information, bank accounts, rights to family allowances, information on schooling and childcare, ...). In addition to any expatriation or mobility package that is offered, the human support of the members of the HR department, the welfare officer and the staff member’s teams plays an enormous part in making the new member of staff feel welcome, and at home.

International RIs have generally developed mobility policies applicable to new recruits who need to move from their place of residence to the area where the RI facility is located (typically within a distance of 35 to 50 km). This includes the travel cost of the staff and his/her family (spouse and children), the transport of personnel belongings, a contribution to the initial costs of temporary accommodation and allowances aiming at compensating the cost of setting up in a new place of residence. This last amount can be rather large and may be increased for staff coming from abroad according to the RI policy. Expatriation allowances may also exist.

One should however note that the integration in a European country or more generally moving to a new country is now much easier than 20 years ago, due to the improvement of all communication media (internet, mobile phones, TV, etc…), and to the decrease of airfares. It allows staff members coming from outside to keep better in touch with their home country or family.

Some language issues have been touched upon before. Barring a number of national perceptions, this issue is fairly rapidly evolving in Europe, where all schooling systems have introduced a foreign language in the early curricula, and most non-English speaking countries have some English taught at an early stage, also responding to several fashions (going from songs to informatics gadgets). This is also largely due to the wider mobility also in short terms (tourism) and there is a developing “new pidgin English” which can be dubbed as “Continental English”. The mobility of scientists is now matched by the mobility of technicians and the need to deal with EU and international laws is introducing a need to have basic English skills also in a number of environments where it was not commonplace. Policy making at EU level is made mainly in (continental) English, and ESFRI has been working smoothly on this basis. Several continental universities and schools have introduced teaching of a number of topics in English, also to attract students from emerging economies. One of the strange exceptions, sometimes, is the difficulty of “continental English speakers” to understand native English speakers!

We would therefore advise RI managers to request English speaking capabilities from all staff members, and give support to get to the level of basic communication skills in this language at all levels of staff.

5.5.4. Equal opportunities

Coming to the issues related to inclusiveness and non-discrimination, international RIs are presented with enhanced challenges as the point where the social and workplace behaviour of several different cultures are brought together. This is inevitably combined with the life choices people may have made to relocate, often to a different country with or without their families. This is generally more likely to be the case for specialist research staff, whereas administrative and support staff may be more likely to come from a local or national pool of employees (although it is recommended to try to have an international component also here). Recruiting and retaining the staff appropriate to cover the necessary activities are crucial to the success of each RI, and getting the right equality aspect of this both increases the pool of applicants and also helps to retain staff for all the right reasons.

The international role of RIs inevitably means that they involve and include a wide variety of people both in the permanent positions and as visiting/time-limited staff (local and foreign people, fixed term contracts, users, trainees, etc) whose diversity can be an advantage to the organization, but should not be a source for discrimination. In most European countries individual diversity may refer to age, race, religion, disability, marital status, gender and sexual orientation. However the level to which equality training and culture is addressed and implemented in a group of employees within a research institute may relate to a highly varied background of awareness and personal experiences of how they have been or feel treated as individuals. RIs are by their nature often dynamic and intense places to work for the researchers, this may be quite challenging also in the above aspects. All staff has to adapt to a multi-cultural environment and management. Although it can be more or less easy for foreign staff, working in such a place is a factor of integration, considering also that he/she can usually find a number other people from his home country.

Some of the key aspects of inequality that can occur in an organisation can go from gender inequality within hierarchies, e.g. there may be (there is!?) a tendency for senior management positions to be held by male able bodied Caucasians, while the majority of administrative/secretarial roles is held by women. In some RIs, the national or even the racial representation may not reflect the local area. The age profile of staff positions is often based on the assumption of seniority and capability being connected to age, but assumptions can also be made on the inability of older individuals to retrain. People (in particular women) with caring-family responsibilities may not be able to work late, or attend social events, and then be (or feel) marginalized: the level of acceptance and openness of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) can vary between different social groups and can lead to stereotypical assumptions about attitude and ability, etc.

In terms of developing a framework for equal opportunities, the policy needs to be embedded within the culture of the RI and led by the top Manager. This can be achieved if the equal opportunities and the impact of activities is made to be a part of the mainstream activity of the RI and when human resources related processes are reviewed in the light of an equality impact assessment. By working toward, and achieving, a genuine culture of equality, the RI managers will lower the risk of challenge by individuals or groups and also improve the quality of life in the organisation.

External recognition of appropriate equality issues can also benchmark the quality of progress made by RIs or other entities, for example in the UK the Athena SWAN award is given to academic scientific organisations for recognition of gender equality.

Based on perceptions of inequalities there may be behaviours which may go from lower communication even to mobbing, and may induce, as a reaction, overwork, isolation and burnout cases, with strong impacts both on the work environment and on the families. If these mechanisms are not understood and dealt with, the whole staff perspective may become affected and tensions may build up to a non-return level.

Although we may be able to give reasons for why such employment profiles and behaviour are to be found, the essence of equal opportunities is to put in place procedures that ensure that, in an organisation, all people can be treated fairly. The benefits of embedding equal opportunities in the RI culture is to have staff who feel more valued as individuals and become attractive to a greater number of job applicants. An affirmative action to force change in an existing organisation is difficult and can be counterproductive, however policies can be adopted that favour the development of a more tolerant and diverse workplace.

5.5.5. Work / life balance

Such actions can include policies to address the issues of work/life balance and the risk of burnout. Regular and meaningful appraisal and mentoring schemes can used to identify staff at risk of working to a point where the overall effort is flawed by long term illness or absence. Staff well-being is becoming increasingly an issue for counselling which can be time intensive and not without cost.

Family friendly policies can be relatively cost effective or cost neutral, most revolve around good planning of meetings at times when people with caring needs can make adjustments to their schedules if necessary. The benefit of this is that it inculcates the good practice of keeping to meeting schedules and not changing the dates.

The role played by the family of new members of staff should not be underestimated. Whilst the early-career researcher may be able to take up a job abroad with great enthusiasm and relative ease, mid-life and older staff will very often have to consider the effects that their new post will have on their partner and children. Their new opportunity may involve a whole number of difficult family decisions and upheavals. The term ‘partner’ (rather than husband or wife) is used here advisedly and can include either same-sex or cohabiting (but unmarried) partners. In this context, and additional strain may be caused, in case of need of getting a loan by a bank, the fact that in several countries, a time limited job is not considered enough as a guarantee for a long term loan. Here some agreement between the RI and its bank may help.

Chief amongst the difficulties faced by partners is finding employment in the RI region. It may be very difficult for the partner to leave his/her current employment and find a new one. This can be a source of financial as well as emotional strain. It is maybe more difficult for foreigners who may have language problems and may encounter diplomas recognition difficulties. The traditional notion that couples consist of one (typically male) ‘breadwinner’ or primary earner is an increasingly outmoded one, and this is especially true of the partners of highly-educated research staff, who are most likely to be part of a dual-career couple.

Generally, the research infrastructure itself cannot address this issue. There may be instances where the partner of a staff member is recruited regularly to an open post through the usual recruiting process but this is only an occasional solution. The RI can, however, put in place some helpful measures, including, as mentioned before, organizing language classes and other resources available to partners and extending some of the administrative support mechanisms to partners as well.

Beyond this, the best hope for integrating partners of new staff lies in the development of a thriving and dynamic local and regional economy which can provide a variety of work and an attractive place to live. The research infrastructure has a further reason, therefore, to develop close and supportive relations with municipal and regional development agencies, neighbouring institutes and take an active role in the local development agenda.

Younger children may adapt to a new country and new language with less difficulty than older children, but in any case the new member of staff may wish to ensure that their children can be reintegrated into their home schooling system. For this reason, international schools (and, relatedly, crèche and other childcare facilities) are a vital adjunct to RIs where a number of international staff will be based. Such schools may already exist in large towns and cities, but not close in smaller sites.

This is another area where local municipal or national support is a key ingredient. In some cases staff members may choose to let their children continue their studies in their home country and to benefit from education allowances or other subsidies paid by the RI. The criteria of attribution of such allowances should be very carefully designed, in order to avoid discrimination issues.

It is important to note that in international RIs, support must be given to foreign staff and their families to learn the host country language, as a key to a good adaptation and integration.

The homogeneity of Europe in language is (luckily!) balanced by the “fall of frontiers” in food and several other aspects of (continental) culture. The barrier between bread (in the south-west) and potatoes (in the north-east), or between wine and beer, or the unavailability of good olive oil or of maatjes is largely a thing of the past, and good coffee (as well as tea) is now commonplace. However a lot can still be built on the attractive diversity which stays with the different EU countries and regions, both in food, in culture, local traditions etc. . A good HR “animator” should know how to expoit these aspects.

5.6. Case studies on Human Resources for Distributed Infrastructures

Distributed infrastructures consist of a number of single sited infrastructures, connected to others in a common infrastructure and with common governance. The single centres (Partner centres) often offer their services electronically by giving access to virtual collections stored at several different sites and develop virtual workflows where the individual web applications and services are being executed at host centres, the location of which may even be unknown to the actual user.

This part deals with the special requirements for human resources in such distributed and virtual research infrastructures. ESFRI examples for such infrastructures are CLARIN, DARIAH, LifeWatch, ECRIN, EPOS and several others which are all based on connecting strong “Partner” centers which offer data, services and services-on-data to users. The requirements of these are very different to those for large single sited infrastructures such as CERN or the other one-sited labs such as DESY, ESRF, Elettra or Rutherford/Appleton which have several hundred employees of different qualification and function working in one institution.

The closely interacting network of Partner centers/hubs needs a coordination capability and reference. Sometimes these centers are organized at Country level, i.e. there is also a national coordination. Also if this coordination has a defined location for administrative reasons, it will also be possible that its employees work at different locations if they can establish a very close interaction level. In Fig. 1 an idealized example for such a network of hubs with one coordinating site is shown. In such a network of centres/hubs each of them takes over certain services based on service level agreements which all together cover what is necessary to serve the users. The technical basis of such a network is one or more agreements on architectural details, on standards, best practices and protocols which will not be explained here in more detail.

Fig. 1 - Example of a network of hubs (black dots) with one coordinating site (red dot)

It is this (virtual) coordination group that needs:

  • to organize the debate on these agreements
  • to negotiate about Service Level Agreement (SLAs) with all parties involved that could be also external service organizations
  • to check the quality of the construction or operation of the network as a whole
  • to stimulate additional services and foster further harmonization and standardization
  • to interact with other similar infrastructures to achieve integration and interoperability
  • to stimulate and organize training, education and dissemination.

The exact type of agreements to share the total work-load amongst the participating centres/hubs depends on a large number of factors including in particular the skills, experiences and strengths of each centre, but this could also serve national or more specific interests. Since it is impossible to describe all variants we describe two theoretical case studies used in the RAMIRI training courses which are close to what is currently being discussed in some research infrastructures. These two case studies refer to different areas of research to show that discussing Human Factors/Resources is, to a certain extent, independent of the subject of the research. This also has the advantage to discuss the topic Human Factors/Resource in a discipline crossing manner.

5.6.1 Case Studies

Two simplified case studies were selected to discuss the aspects to be considered when setting up distributed virtual research infrastructures: (1) EuroQuakes as an example from natural sciences and (2) EuroLang as an example from the humanities (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2 - EuroQuakes and EuroLang: schematic structure

As indicated in the schematic figure, both infrastructures consist of 3 layers: (a) a large number of users/sensors/programs that create and consume data and services; (b) a limited number of Partner centres/hubs offering services and (c) a central reference which coordinates the infrastructure. Layer (a) is not part of the considerations in this note since we assume that the way this layer is organized and functioning will be influenced by research programs etc.

Tab. 1 - EuroQuakes and EuroLang: key characteristics

Thus the infrastructures consist basically of the layers (b) and (c). In Tab. 1 we summarize the key characteristics of the two infrastructures helping to roughly indicate the Human Resources needed to setup and run the infrastructures.

The task is to work out a plan for the type and number of experts to be involved in the two infrastructure layers, to make statements about recruitment, development and management aspects, given the need for a lean setup of all teams fostering efficient work. In general the partner centres/hubs will be funded by national contributions while the coordinating team will be funded by European and/or national contributions.

In general a small percentage of the national contributions will be used to fund the activities of the coordination team. Since ERICs are new, different strategies may have been followed, most often suggesting a not too high percentage, to the funders, to have a lower threshold for their acceptance to commit. In that case the number of participating countries and thus centres determines the available budget for running the ERIC.

For this reason we will argue for a minimal initial staffing and indicate where more staff will be required if more funds would become available. However, the central coordination team should always strive to be lean and it is to better outsource as many functions as possible to the distributed centres.

It should also be pointed out that we will assume that in most cases the partner centres already exist and simply need some upgrade to meet the infrastructure requirements. These existing centres can already offer many different types of services.

5.6.2 Human Resource Planning


When talking about HR planning we need to consider a number of constraints that need to be met in the case of these new distributed/virtual infrastructures:

  • Nearly all these new RI will be established initially for a limited time period. 5 years should be a minimum to be able to evaluate progress/success. This limitation can hamper success in finding some excellent people which are required in critical positions. However, one can, in part, select experts from the existing centres, e.g. as seconded personnel and offer them a “return” opportunity.
  • The coordination team should have a size which will not change widely between the construction and operation phases, i.e. all aspects dealing with implementation of software, hardware and electronics should be outsourced to the participating centres based on formal agreements.
  • Often salaries are determined by local rules which need to be taken into account. Therefore we will only speak about 4 categories: (A) Charismatic well-known person; (B) high-level senior expert; (C) junior expert; (D) secretarial/administrative person.

Coordination Team

Obviously the coordination team must provide a number of functions independent of the field of science:

  • There must be a leading director who should be a well-known and respected person in the discipline who has ideally communicative skills, a broad overview of the field, charismatic character to convince researchers and technologists about joint programs and initiatives, etc. This is the person that also needs to maintain good contacts with the different funding organizations, stakeholders etc. This person, type A, should preferably have a research background, and must be mainly or fully devoted to the task (>66% FTE).
  • There must be area directors to cover the following areas: (1) Scientific Topics, (2) Technology, (3) Outreach/Dissemination/Training. These persons in general will be of type B and the time they will devote will depend on the size of the ERIC (between 20% and 100%). Depending on the specific setup of the ERIC these functions may be defined in slightly different ways.
  • For larger ERICs it may be of relevance to have scientifically and/or technologically educated support staff of type C. These will be hired based on the needs and opportunities.
  • There must be secretarial support that will also take care of maintaining part of the web-site and the communication channels, helping to organize meetings etc. Also in this respect the number of persons to be engaged depends very much on the size of the ERIC. At least one half-time person of type D would be required.
  • There must be administrative support which most often will/could be outsourced to the institution the ERIC is embedded in. Its costs need to be negotiated with the hosting institution. Since an ERIC will give high visibility, the hosting institution should be generous.

Here only the major functions have been listed. There may be other functions that need to be taken care of depending on the size and the type of functions taken up by the ERIC. For all functions a certain degree of continuity is of great importance, i.e. contracts should have durations of at least 3 to 5 years. At the level of the area directors and the support staff a balance will be required between continuity and innovation, i.e. some of the contracts should have durations of 2 to 3 years.

Partner Centre Teams

The centres need to take care on one hand of the data that is aggregated and managed and on the other hand of the users who want to access data. Managing data and giving access to data includes many different activities such as analysing quality, curation, upload, preservation, protection, federation, etc. of data and providing trustable hardware & software solutions to store and access these data. Standards and best practice guidelines play a big role for many of these functions resulting in a digital repository/archive that is highly dynamic. There are always extensions, new versions, migrations being carried out requiring personnel involvement. There is an increasing conviction that only automatic procedures will scale – nevertheless human effort will still be required.

Yet there are not yet developed experiences about the persons needed. We can refer to a document written within CLARIN that gathered several estimates being presented at different occasions (e.g. see Cost Estimates (D2R-9b).

As indicated above we assume, however, that most of the centres already exist and they only need to adapt their local capabilities to meet the ERIC’s requirement. Nevertheless, in most cases to make the centres fit for participation requires additional work.

The most important areas where additional work needs to be done during the construction phase are as follows:

  • The hardware and system/storage software solution may need to be revised to create a stable and scalable environment.
  • The whole data organization incl. metadata, persistent identifiers, collection building needs to be adapted.
  • Policies that govern data life-cycle need to be defined and realized to allow audits on the quality of the centre.
  • Often data curation steps are required to trim data objects and collections to the required formats.
  • For interoperability schemas need to be constructed and registered and terminology needs to be defined and registered.
  • Protection and access mechanisms are often not ready for giving access to many people, so new software needs to be developed to meet the needs.
  • New skills need to be built up to support new types of protocols that support data exchange and federation (OAI-PMH, Shibboleth/AAI, SRU/Distributed Search, etc.).
  • Training courses of various sorts need to be provided, manuals to be written etc.

It is difficult to estimate correctly the average amount of work included in these construction efforts, since too many factors are playing a role. But it is obvious that many partner centres will need people with additional skills and a specific type of education/training to meet the increased requirements

Also for the operation phase one can only make rough estimates:

  • For data management, an economy of scale can be applied as long as data are in a proper state and as there are proper software tools supporting all activities. Few data managers with the help of student assistants can handle large amounts of data.
  • The Hardware and Software components need to be managed for networks, storage and servers.
  • Basic software components need to be maintained for operating the repository, to give access to data, for federating the data etc..
  • The interaction with users and depositors, the corresponding agreements and the access permissions need to be managed.
  • Activities to inform users (training, manuals, etc.) need to be intensified.
  • Special activities, such as digitizing, integrating new data and writing new software components cannot be estimated and will need to be treated outside of operation costs, and could be attributed to upgrade costs.

A director (with executive powers) is needed for such a centre. If it is a self-standing unit this would require a well-known expert of type A, while, in the case of an embedded unit, an expert of type B may be sufficient. Most of the other people mentioned above will be of type B and C. In terms contract durations, the same approach as mentioned earlier applies: one will need to find a good balance between long-term and short-term contracts.

One of the great problems to deal with in the centres is the fluctuation of staff, whose consequences are often underestimated. Some funds need to be reserved to pay transition (peak load) periods where extra personnel will be required to be able to offer a stable service.

To estimate the human resources needed for the partner centres, the best advice is to visit well-functioning centres of different size and type and to come to a conclusion on which of the models being used fits most the requirements of the new centre being set-up.

A good mix of staff with scientific and computer science background at different level will be the most appropriate to operate such a centre.

5.6.3 Recruiting and Attractiveness

Coordination Team

Currently it seems to be most appropriate to recruit the members of the coordination team from the existing centres and, in some cases, such as for the leading director, from the scientists engaged in/with the goals and activity of the infrastructure. In the future we can expect to have a easier availability of more experienced managers that have already a good/excellent knowledge in leading or co-leading research infrastructures. This type of people will be absolutely necessary when these infrastructures will get mature and become pan-European.

Given appropriate salaries and work environments these positions will be attractive, since they will offer interesting opportunities in various dimensions. Taking into account that the leading director will not be a life job, a contractual settlement should be found allowing the person to return to his earlier work, or to progress to other interesting jobs. This need to plan for further mobility might also be true for some experts of type B.

Partner Centres

For most personnel in the partner centres it makes sense to use all usual recruitment channels. To prevent a too heavy fluctuation, the centres need to actively keep the work environment attractive in particular since the salaries in industry for highly-qualified people are higher. There are many options to maintain attractiveness:

  • Committed team managers that have a high scientific/technological and social competence.
  • A high interaction about innovative scientific/technological aspects in the team to increase the qualification.
  • Mixing the routine jobs with new challenges to increase the qualification, i.e. the participation in attractive new projects with an innovative touch.
  • Support for participation in qualification measurements.
  • For many (not all) young people the possibility to attend international meetings is very attractive, this should be supported based on clear and transparent criteria such as active contribution to the service, etc.
  • Of great relevance for younger people is to find an excellent atmosphere which is dependent on many factors such as proper and fair management attitude, good relations between the team members, sufficient space for informal interactions<ref name="ftn1"> Modern work happens to a large percentage behind computer screens. It is appropriate to find compensatory interaction spaces such as for example regular coffee meetings. Often office matters will be discussed very efficiently, but also topics of common concern (political, cultural, etc.) will be discussed. This is all very important since, most often, teams are multi-cultural. </ref>.
  • Regular and fair talks with the management to give feedback on what has been achieved and what the team or the person failed to achieve the goals. This needs to be accompanied with defining personal and team goals for the coming periods.

5.7. RAMIRI Training Slides

last update November 17, 2013, at 06:38 PM
by Fabio Mazzolini