What is the Roadmap?

The 2021 National Research Infrastructure Roadmap is a consultative process used by the Australian Government to identify the future infrastructure needs of the Australian research community, particularly in relation to research that will deliver long-term national benefit, and support strategic international partnerships.

The Roadmap is informed by consultation with the research community and its stakeholders, as well as scoping studies undertaken since the 2016 Roadmap, and strategic papers produced by government, industry and research organisations, nationally and internationally.

In 2021, the National Research Infrastructure Roadmap will engage the Australian research community and its stakeholders across a range of online platforms to identify and explore solutions for our most pressing questions:

  • How do we optimise the potential of our existing national research infrastructure?
  • How do we prepare our national research infrastructure to withstand crisis and catastrophe?
  • What research infrastructure will our research community need five to ten years from now?

What happens next?

  • Phase 1
  • Phase 2
  • Phase 3
  • Phase 4
  • Final
  • Identifying the needs

    In June, a nationally circulated survey collected insights on how the research community and its stakeholders interact with Australia’s NRI, what they need from it now and in the future, and what they see as the emerging trends and challenges.

  • Exploring the solutions

    Through a series of targeted facilitated meetings, online brainstorms and commissioned research, the research community and its stakeholders will provide input into how the national research infrastructure should evolve in response to the needs, trends and challenges identified.

  • Developing the exposure draft

    Informed by the ideas and discoveries of the consultation process to date, an Exposure Draft of the 2021 National Research Infrastructure Roadmap will be developed and released for public comment.

  • Collecting feedback

    The Exposure Draft will be published on the website and stakeholders asked to provide feedback via online submissions. Those submissions will guide the development of a final draft to be presented by the Expert Working Group to the Australian Government.

  • Government response

    The Australian Government will respond to the recommendations of the 2021 National Research Infrastructure Roadmap through its 2022 Research Infrastructure Investment Plan.

Who is responsible for the Roadmap in 2021?

An Expert Working Group has been assembled to steer the development of the 2021 National Research Infrastructure Roadmap.

The members of the Expert Working Group were agreed to by the Minister for Education and Youth and the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology. Their work will be supported by a taskforce within the Department of Education, Skills and Employment, with secondees from a range of Government agencies.

At the close of the Roadmap, the Expert Working Group will prepare a report for the Government providing context and perspectives on how the national research infrastructure can best be supported over the next five years and beyond.

Expert Working Group
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Scoping Study Consultation

Collecting the community’s perspectives and feedback on scoping activities identified in the 2016 Roadmap.

Now closed

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Facilitated Meetings

Discussions to inform how NRI can respond to needs, trends and future challenges in research and industry.

Now closed

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Ideas Jams

Brainstorming the community’s ideas for how NRI can adapt and evolve over the next decade.

Now closed

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Collecting community feedback on the Exposure Draft of the 2021 NRI Roadmap.

Now closed

A message from Dr Cathy Foley AO PSM

In the first weeks of her appointment as Chief Scientist of Australia, Dr Cathy Foley looked back on her involvement in the 2016 Roadmap for insights into how we should approach the challenge of developing a National Research Infrastructure Roadmap for 2021 and beyond.

A message from Dr Alan Finkel AO

Before he vacated his office as Chief Scientist at the end of 2020, Dr Alan Finkel paused to reflect on the 2016 National Research Infrastructure Roadmap developed under his stewardship, and to consider the challenges ahead for the makers of the 2021 Roadmap.

Dr Cathy Foley: As Australia’s Chief Scientist, I am very pleased to be involved in the development of the new National Research Infrastructure Roadmap as one of my first tasks. This roadmap will shape our research. It will help the science and research community hone its thinking and priorities. It will ensure we have the equipment and capabilities we need. And it will provide the backbone for Australia’s future prosperity. We need to get it right.

I was involved in the development of the 2016 Roadmap in my previous role. One of the lessons for me is that we need to think beyond the limits of the present. With as much foresight as we can muster. And we need to be prepared for the unexpected.

The challenge is to recognise the speed of change, understand that there are unknowns in how science and research will develop, and devise a roadmap that will be useful and relevant not just five years from now, but well into the future.

For example, when I look back at the 2016 Roadmap, I can’t help but notice the word hydrogen doesn’t appear. Now, it is one of the key elements of Australia’s shift to a clean economy and has the potential to become our next big export industry.

Our vulnerability to exotic and zoonotic diseases did feature in the last roadmap. But the word pandemic didn’t make an appearance and it is only now that we have a renewed appreciation of what it means to be prepared for such an event.

The volume of data and our capacity to process it has increased at a pace none of us could have imagined. In 2009, when the Australia Telescope produced an image of the galaxy Centaurus A, it took 1,200 hours to collect the data and another 10,000 hours to process it. Now, the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder can produce the same image in 10 minutes. That’s how much things have changed in the world of computing in just over a decade.

And in the coming few years, change will be even faster. We have now entered the era of exascale computing. The new computers coming online will be able to churn through a billion billion calculations a second. Australia has two supercomputers, but they need significant and ongoing attention to keep pace with the rate of change and the needs of the research community.

I sometimes think of the pace of change like a kind of runaway reaction. We can’t – and we don’t want to – slow the rapid progress. But the challenge is to make it a controlled reaction, if you like. When the breakthroughs come – in, say, quantum computing, or synthetic biology – will we have the right infrastructure in place to take advantage?

I’m talking about infrastructure that has been developed with sufficient foresight and ambition so it can be adapted for the arrival of those new technologies and capabilities which might be now only at the limits of our imagination.

This is how to ensure we can capitalise for Australia’s prosperity.

It is also how we prepare for the crises of the future.

The digital revolution, the volume of data and the interconnectedness of the digital world, brings enormous opportunities. But also new threats. What do we need to do to ensure we are prepared?

The climate threat is manifest already. Responding to it is our most challenging problem. And it will take every bit of human ingenuity to find a solution.

And we need to ask ourselves: Are we prepared for a threat from an unexpected quarter?

As we prepare this infrastructure roadmap we can take lessons from the pandemic and the bushfires. At a time of ever increasing global connectedness, these twin crises have thrown us back in on ourselves, on Australian capabilities. If we invest in science that can protect our nation, our country and our people, it will never be wasted. COVID-19 has sparked a renewed interest in ensuring we have our own manufacturing capability for pharmaceuticals and medical equipment. The bushfires have highlighted the importance of new technologies as we look for better ways to predict, monitor and fight fires, and combat natural disasters more broadly.

We must also harness the expertise of our indigenous people as we look for solutions that apply to the Australian landscape.

Another lesson from the pandemic is that it has limited our access to the laboratory, forcing us to find ways to do our research remotely. This reinforces a shift already underway in relation to scientific equipment and experimentation. We no longer need to spend all night at the radio telescope. Or buy our own desktop electron microscope. We don’t need lots of highly specialised equipment sitting in small labs in individual departments of universities and publicly funded agencies.

As equipment becomes increasingly sophisticated and automated, and built to handle exponentially growing datasets, I urge you to resist siloed thinking among researchers and specialties and think collaboratively. Collaboration needs to extend across institutions and importantly, across state borders. Territorial rivalries will hold us back.

My predecessor as Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, has urged us not to shy away from the hard decisions and I would emphasise that alongside him. We can’t do everything. We need to prioritise while making sure we strike a balance between fundamental research, applied research and translational research. We have to be smarter with the money available, especially when the pandemic has taken such a big toll on universities.

This is a big challenge. But COVID-19 has shown us a different way of working and we can build on that.

The pandemic has also brought attention to Australian knowhow and helped us ask questions about the capabilities we need as a nation. The government says it wants research at the heart of policy. And that’s a very good thing. It is now up to us as a research community to have ambition about what the nation needs. You are the experts and we need to hear from you.

Thank you

Dr Alan Finkel: Greetings. Think of me as a ghost from the past. I chaired the National Research Infrastructure Roadmap five years ago and was a member of the Phil Clark review into the NCRIS strategic framework the year before. But I am a friendly ghost and here to share some of the things I learned through those earlier reviews.

Each of you shares the responsibility for the 2021 Research Infrastructure Roadmap, and as such you will guide the investment to support world class research in Australia and drive investment during an important time for emerging industries in Australia.

But how to choose the priorities?

When I presented the 2016 research infrastructure roadmap, I described it as an opportunity to position Australia “to catch the waves of discovery ahead”. My point was that the task isn’t about crystal ball gazing or predicting the future; it’s about having the know-how and the equipment ready to go.

Hal Varian at Google is widely cited for the formula he uses to predict commerce of the future. His technique is simple: Look at what the richest people have today. That’s what everyone will have tomorrow, since technology will find a way to make those products at scale. If we went with that approach, we might bank on driverless vehicles, transparent televisions and wearable health sensors.

But, of course, gadgets and guesswork are not how we come up with a roadmap for the nation’s research infrastructure. Or at least not the only way. What we need to do is choose the races that Australia should be preparing for, based on our skill set – current and emerging – and our natural advantages. It’s about what Australia can bring to the table.

This is how we became the nation to broadcast Neil Armstrong’s famous first words on the Moon. This is how Australia returned to the spotlight as one of the hosts of the global Square Kilometre Array, the world’s biggest radio telescope. And this is how we have been able to foster cost effective prospecting in the mining industry, develop new industries in precision global positioning, safely test vaccines in animals, and track the genomic signatures of the coronavirus. This is the kind of ambition that moves science forward.

As the architects of the new roadmap, I encourage you to be ambitious. Trust that hard problems can be solved.

When we say the term “research infrastructure”, people immediately think of roads and bridges. But we use the term as a ‘ware-word’. It describes the expensive hard-ware beyond the resources of a single lab or university. It describes complex soft-ware, such as climate models and earth observation databases. And it describes the wet-ware – the expert personnel who support the facilities. And it also covers our investment in international collaborations.

Many of the priorities are already clear. For example, using space for Earth observation and communications, to support our farmers, forecasters and high technology companies. Healthy ageing to ensure fewer years of morbidity and quality-adjusted life years.Medical devices and pharmaceuticals manufactured in Australia, so we can commercialise our research expertise, and underpin our national security in the face of the next unknown unknown.

The Government has signalled waste management as a key priority. Agriculture is another focus, with the industry’s target of increasing agriculture output from about $60 billion to $100 billion this decade.

The technologies set out in the low emissions roadmap – clean hydrogen, zero emissions steel, zero emissions aluminium, battery storage for solar and wind electricity, soil carbon measurement, and carbon capture and storage will require massive efforts in research and investment. We started the low emissions roadmap with dozens more. Knowing that we can’t invest in every potential future technology we had to whittle them down. One of our key filters was to identify technologies that would benefit from government investment.

Similar questions will have to be addressed in developing the new infrastructure roadmap. Not, “What research would we like to be involved in?”. Not even, “What research is Australia doing well?”. The question is, “What research, in line with the Government’s priorities, will benefit from national-scale research facilities?”.

This targeted approach will mean a strong focus on an identified and limited portfolio, rather than a lesser focus on a more diffuse range of infrastructure. Focussing on priorities has another benefit. It creates a kind of vortex effect, pulling in other investments.

In all the reviews I led while I was Australia’s Chief Scientist, the most important tool I had at my disposal was wide consultation. I recommend that you consult widely with scientists. Consult with industry. Consult with Ministers. Add six drops of essence of terror, five drops of sinister sauce, when the mixture’s done – make your decisions and present your roadmap.

In this particular roadmap, a huge challenge will be to find a balance between continuing investment in existing facilities and money for greenfield facilities. Simply put, we must free up funding to do new things. And that means making tough decisions to transition some of the existing facilities off government support to become autonomous. That ranking of priorities will be the most difficult of the tasks ahead. But I urge you not to shy away from it.

With that, I wish you well in your review. Better you than me. May the Force be with you.

Thank you.