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FAQs

What is the database?

The MERIL (Mapping of the European Research Infrastructure Landscape) portal aims to be a comprehensive and up-to-date database of European research infrastructures. It currently covers over 900 research infrastructures across all scientific domains, and the aim is to expand the data coverage further and include additional RIs. The portal provides the means for making informed assessments and decisions about the research infrastructure landscape and collaboration in Europe.

How do I access it?

Simply go to https://portal.meril.eu

Why is there a need for it?

The MERIL database will enable:

  • Individual research infrastructures to raise their profile and foster a greater sense of partnership across Europe
  • Scientists and RI users to access resources and find information about services and facilities offered by research infrastructures they may previously have been unaware of
  • RI coordinators to exchange best practice with a view to optimising the operation and exploitation of research infrastructures
  • Policy-makers to analyse and optimise the national and European RI funding landscapes by, for example, pinpointing gaps and identifying synergies at the European level

How much funding has been allocated to this, and why?

The MERIL-2 project has been funded for a three-year period by the European Commission. However, in order to ensure data is kept up to date, and to deliver sustained impact, the portal needs to be funded long term.

The ambition for MERIL-2 is to be much more than a simple repository of information. It aims to provide a destination website with dynamic content about research infrastructures, which will enable better use of existing resources and planning of future resources than is currently possible.

Achieving this impact will require significant resource – in personnel efforts and technical development – in order to capture comprehensive data, and keep it up to date. Substantial work is required to maintain networks and contacts across countries and institutions in Europe, and conduct effective data quality assurance to ensure that the data in the portal is high-quality, comparable, and can be used to its full potential. MERIL-2 will not only deliver significant value in its own right, but it will also lay the groundwork for similar initiatives, and set standards to ensure future open data initiatives will not have to undergo the same levels of preparation and underpinning work. Indeed, MERIL is already serving as an example to other similar databases around the world. The MERIL team is collaborating with peer databases to define best practice and establish the future interoperability of such systems.

How will it help the scientific community as a whole?

The MERIL portal will help to connect the scientific community by giving researchers access to information on research infrastructures in Europe, their facilities, and areas of research. This will help researchers to pursue new opportunities, partner and collaborate with colleagues across Europe. This will be particularly useful for interdisciplinary teams. The portal will also feature a forum area covering all countries for researchers to engage with each other and share best practice.

What’s more, the data in the portal will help to ensure effective planning for future research infrastructures, by pinpointing gaps and identifying opportunities for collaboration at the European level.

Is it independent/ objective?

The data is provided by the research infrastructures themselves, so we rely on them to present information that is accurate. However, we are designing the new portal with improved data structures to make it more quantitative and comparable, and to avoid misinterpretation or subjectivity. We have reduced the number of open text fields, for example, and implemented more banded fields. All data submissions are also reviewed by a member of the MERIL team before they are published.

Data submission is voluntary, with eligible research infrastructures identified and invited to contribute to the database by National Data Intermediaries. This means that the selection of research infrastructures included is not yet exhaustive. However, we recently developed new guidelines to help National Data Intermediaries identify eligible institutions, and to encourage the inclusion of all eligible research infrastructures. This will be a priority for the second half of the MERIL-2 project, and the MERIL team is also playing an active role in identifying missing research infrastructures in order to invite them to be represented in the database.

Is it free?

The MERIL database is funded by the European Commission and is free at the point of use, providing open access data on European research infrastructures. The MERIL team also provides assistance for data exporting and analysis on request. As the team is responsible for quality checking the data, and knows when it was last updated, they are best equipped to provide guidance on interpretation, and to provide more tailored analysis for users’ needs. The MERIL team welcomes requests from users to help them find the data they are looking for.

The portal and its support services are available for free due to current funding from the European Commission as part of a three-year project. However, continuing to provide open access to current and reliable data, and the impact this in turn will provide, will require sustained and long term investment.

What is MERIL’s definition of a research infrastructure?

The MERIL project established the following definition of research infrastructures:
A European Research Infrastructure is a facility or (virtual) platform that provides the scientific community with resources and services to conduct research in their respective fields. These research infrastructures can be single-sited or distributed or an e-infrastructure, and can be part of a national or international network of facilities, or of interconnected scientific instrument networks.

Furthermore:

  • RIs offer recognised, established scientific and technological facilities or services
  • RIs permit free access or regulate access through a transparent selection process based on scientific quality and project feasibility
  • RIs are managed according to sustainable principles and have a long-term perspective

Inclusion in the MERIL database is not limited by size or profile, with the portal covering high quality facilities that provide access to European and international users. This can include specialised university laboratories and historical archives, to biobanks and experiments at large establishments such as CERN, home of the Large Hadron Collider.

The MERIL database relies on accurate information provided by all eligible research infrastructures across all disciplines. The engagement of research infrastructures therefore plays a key part in its success.

What are the criteria for a research infrastructure to qualify to appear in MERIL?

The RI must qualify as an RI under the MERIL definition stated in question 5. Furthermore, MERIL has established a checklist of questions that define whether an RI is eligible to be included in its database:

MERIL eligibility checklist YES NO
1. Does the RI have a policy of providing access to users outside of the country in which it is located or by which it is coordinated?
2. Does the RI provide clear access rules (for example application forms, open calls and contact information) and an access point for users on a publicly available web page?
3. Does the RI provide a website in English (including the access rules)?
4. Does the RI receive national, regional or European public funding?
5. Does the RI have an appointed contact or manager responsible for the RI?
6. The RI is of more than national relevance because it…
a) can provide evidence that it is used by non-national (European or international) users by for example providing the number of non-national users per year
b) is part of a European or international network
c) has formal arrangements or agreements with international partners, for example with similar RIs in other countries

An RI is considered to be eligible to be included in MERIL if all answers to questions 1-5 are positive and if at least one statement under 6 (a, b, or c) applies.

Why do I not find a specific RI?

The MERIL project relies on several sources for the identification of eligible RIs, including representatives from member states and the general public. The RIs in the MERIL database fulfil the above mentioned criteria. If an RI that you think is eligible is missing, please follow the instructions in the next FAQ to suggest it for consideration.

The database is continuously being updated with eligible RIs, but RI profile pages are only published once a core set of required data has been provided by the facility managers, so it may take a few months for an RI to appear on MERIL following its nomination and the eligibility- check.

Internationally distributed RIs, such as ESFRI projects, are normally covered by a single entry, the coordinating centre. The national nodes of internationally distributed RIs may nevertheless have individual entries if they also function autonomously and offer services and facilities independently of the international structure.

Note that MERIL does not include Integrating Activities or short-term projects or networks, although their component parts may be entries in MERIL in their own right. For information on research infrastructure projects funded by the European Commission, please see the RICH Observatory. For a map of facilities funded by the European Commission in the framework of its Integrating Activities, see its Map of Research Infrastructures.

How do I request to add an RI to MERIL?

If you are the coordinator or main contact for a research infrastructure that may be MERIL-eligible and you would like to nominate it for inclusion in MERIL, please download and complete the Self-Assessment Form for Prospective New Entries. When you have filled out the form, please send it to the MERIL team at meril(at)esf.org. We will forward your proposal to the relevant National or International Data Intermediaries for advisement. If the check is positive, the MERIL team will create an entry for the RI and a user account for the contact person to complete the data for the RI through the back office of the portal. The RI profile page will be published once the core set of data has been provided by facility managers and has been quality checked by the MERIL team.

If you are a member of the general public and you think that MERIL is missing a research infrastructure , please use the form available through the homepage to make a suggestion, or contact meril(at)esf.org. The MERIL team will evaluate your suggestion and forward it to the relevant authorities for validation.

Who decides which RIs should be in MERIL?

The MERIL office, in concertation with member state representatives (National Data Intermediaries) and, when necessary, the MERIL Advisory Committee, evaluates the eligibility of identified RIs against the criteria listed above. This evaluation is done on the basis of information provided by the RI’s facility manager. The MERIL office drives an effort to come to a consensus and holds the final authority on the MERIL- eligibility of an RI.

What information will MERIL give me on research infrastructures?

The MERIL-2 portal is structured around three levels of data. Only the first is compulsory for research infrastructures to provide, and this data will be accessible to all users. This information includes where research infrastructures are, what they do, how they are structured, and the services they provide.

Research infrastructures are also invited to provide ‘Additional’ data, which includes information on collaborations, networks and access. Where such data has been provided, it will be available to all users.

A third data set of ‘Advanced’ information includes data on finance, funding, HR and resourcing. As this is potentially sensitive data, it is not available to the public. MERIL is working with research infrastructures to understand the need for such data, and the best way of providing access to those who may need it, whilst protecting sensitive information.

The MERIL team can also provide users with exports of data, or tailored analysis of data on request. The MERIL team welcomes requests from users to help them find the data they are looking for.

How can I be sure the data is comprehensive?

MERIL-2 provides the most data on European research infrastructures that is currently available in any single database. Data submission is voluntary, with eligible research infrastructures identified and invited to contribute to the database by National Data Intermediaries. This means that the selection of research infrastructures included is not yet exhaustive, and therefore comparability of data between countries is not yet perfect. However, ensuring that data is more comparable going forward is a priority for the portal. We recently developed new guidelines to help National Data Intermediaries identify eligible institutions, and to encourage the inclusion of all eligible research infrastructures. This will be a priority for the second half of the MERIL-2 project.

In addition the MERIL team will take a proactive approach in identifying eligible RIs to be included in the database based on existing sources such as RI networks, projects, national and thematic databases and roadmaps. We will also encourage a bottom-up approach, establishing an open channel for the wider research community to contribute, helping to keep the portal representative and up to date.

With regards to the data held on each research infrastructure, we have worked with subject matter experts to review and clean the existing ~900 research infrastructure data sets in the database. This ensures the information is as accurate and up-to-date as possible, and improves the structure of the data, to make it more quantitative and comparable for easier analysis. We have reduced the number of open text fields, for example, and implemented more banded fields. Data is provided by the research infrastructures themselves, so we rely on them to present information that is accurate. However, all data submissions are then reviewed by a member of the MERIL team before they are published.

How can I use the data?

The MERIL portal is open access, and users can use the data freely provided that they acknowledge MERIL in all publications, report, or other documents that use MERIL data. For example, a researcher could find a facility by geographic location, or by equipment or facility. Or policymakers may wish to see what is currently in their country. As the database becomes more populated, it will also become possible to compare countries against others, for example, in order to help plan for the future.

To avoid misinterpretation, data cannot be exported directly from the portal, subject to data protection policies. Instead, the MERIL team can provide users with exports of data on request. As the team is responsible for quality checking the data, and knows when it was last updated, the MERIL team is best equipped guidance on interpretation, and to provide more tailored analysis for users’ needs. The MERIL team welcomes requests from users to help them find the data they are looking for.

Are there any data protection concerns?

MERIL takes data protection very seriously. It complies with all data hosting regulations, and personal data is treated in line with data protection laws established in Europe and in particular in France and Greece (where the team responsible for the data is based and where the servers holding the data are located, respectively).

For this reason, we cannot share email lists with third parties. However, if you have content that we deem of relevance to the MERIL community, there are platforms through which we can share this, so please get in touch with the team at meril[at]esf.org

How is data collected?

Data submission is voluntary, with eligible research infrastructures identified and invited to contribute to the database. This means that the selection of research infrastructures included is not yet exhaustive. However, we recently developed new guidelines to help National Data Intermediaries identify eligible institutions, and to encourage the inclusion of all eligible research infrastructures. This will be a priority for the second half of the MERIL-2 project, and the MERIL team is also playing an active role in identifying missing research infrastructures in order to invite them to be represented in the database.

The data is provided by the research infrastructures themselves, so we rely on them to present information that is accurate. However, we are designing the new portal with improved data structures to make it more quantitative and comparable, and to avoid misinterpretation or subjectivity. We have reduced the number of open text fields, for example, and implemented more banded fields. All data submissions are also reviewed by a member of the MERIL team before they are published.

As the project progresses we will encourage a bottom-up approach, establishing an open channel for the wider research community to contribute, helping to keep the portal representative and up to date.

Who enters the information about RIs into the database?

RI facility managers are responsible for entering data about their RI into MERIL. When necessary, the MERIL office may enter information in lieu of the facility manager. The information entered into the MERIL database is quality-checked prior to publication of the RI profile page.

Where can I find the definitions of the data fields?

The data fields are defined in the Metadata Dictionary.

I used the first iteration of the database, how is this different?

Building on the first phase of MERIL, the MERIL-2 project will further expand the coverage, accuracy and usability of the database and portal through improved functionality and standardised data sets, creating a hub for European research infrastructure information, resources and networking.

Particular attention to the quality of the data is being employed with MERIL-2, with all data being quality checked to ensure better consistency. The information in the updated portal is also presented in a clearer and more usable way, and more quantitative where possible, enabling easier comparison and analysis.