Equipment roadmaps

Introduction

In order to better understand the future needs for investment in cutting-edge and underpinning equipment to support world-leading physical science and engineering in the UK, EPSRC is working with the academic community to prepare a series of community-led equipment roadmaps. This mechanism is specifically aimed at supporting suitable and well rationalised technique-based roadmaps e.g. NMR spectroscopy, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy etc. and as such roadmaps focused primarily on capability e.g. materials characterisation, organic chemistry etc. are excluded, and should be discussed with the relevant Theme. The technique being addressed should be sufficiently broad in that it is of relevance to a wide enough audience but also has a clear focus.

If this is an activity you wish to consider undertaking, please consult with EPSRC in the first instance, who will provide oversight and guidance throughout.  This could include person support in terms of data gathering, analysis and event logistics, as well as direct contributions to support related activities or events. As EPSRC has limited resource available we will need to prioritise roadmaps based on the justification provided and delays may be required in order to ensure a staggered approach. Please direct any enquiries to Susan Peacock (susan.peacock@epsrc.ac.uk, 01793 444073).

Completed reviews can be found at the bottom of this page under the heading "Resources".

Background

A good roadmap will...

  • Provide a clear picture of the current UK capital infrastructure available within a specific area and increase awareness of it, which in turn may lead to more and/or better equipment sharing;
  • Set out a future vision for the UK in relation to a particular technique;
  • Provide a well-informed account of a technique for its intended audience, be it a single or number of research communities, equipment users, developers, vendors, EPSRC or BEIS;
  • Inform strategy and decisions made within an academic community, at single or multiple Institutions, in industry, in single or multiple Themes within EPSRC, across the Research Councils, other UK funding bodies and potentially at a Governmental level. In particular, EPSRC will ensure it is used to inform the equipment funding process;
  • Be a living document that is updated at regular intervals, as appropriate, to ensure it remains relevant, requiring long term commitment from the community, and possibly the lead author;
  • Inform the peer review process. By this we mean that a roadmap will have community buy-in; demonstrated through applicants taking it into consideration, and the recommendations being recognised by reviewers and panel members.

A good roadmap may...

  • Where appropriate, provide a focal point for single or multiple research communities to network and collaborate through the future vision as laid out by the report.

A good roadmap will not...

  • Be a guarantee for further funding;
  • Represent the views of an individual or a sub-set of the community, or of EPSRC.

Process map

In order to outline a typical project management plan, EPSRC have produced the following process map.

Identifying a technique

There are many ways in which potential techniques that would benefit from a can be identified; from within EPSRC (based on equipment funding, Theme strategy, advice from Strategic Advisory bodies), to the UK research and innovation community.

Identifying a lead author and working group

The lead author will need be involved throughout the process and is responsible for delivering the final report. They can be experts or a more general, neutral party, but no roadmap should be driven solely by an individual - it should be backed by the relevant community or communities. Lead authors are generally supported by a working group composed of members representing the breadth of a particular technique. The working group could include equipment developers as well as users, if appropriate. Authors can be identified, with suitable justification either by self-identifying or through recommendations made to EPSRC.

Information gathering

Information can be gathered in numerous ways e.g. community meetings, site visits, surveys, literature reviews of available documents (such as landscaping and impact studies), analysis of available data etc. The data requirements will differ depending on the technique and authors will need to fully define the scope of the roadmap and consider who their intended audience is, as well as the right questions to ask to enable an accurate and informative reflection on the UK landscape. Some of these points have been highlighted in the sections below. 

Feedback

It is expected that a draft report identifying key findings is made available and disseminated amongst the relevant communities. This is an important step as it provides an opportunity for the community to respond and give feedback and further input, ensuring community buy-in and accuracy.

Key findings and recommendations

The final report should developed and completed by the author and working group using the outputs of the feedback stage. The report should include a summary of your key findings and messages, and a conclusion about the overall state of the technique. In addition to a general summary of the main points you should offer and outline any emerging and realistic recommendations or actions that have been identified. A useful way of representing the current and future landscape for a particular technique could be in the form of a layered structure ("National" > "Regional" > "Local" > "Departmental"), an example of which is presented here.

Careful thought should be given to the appropriate dissemination routes for this report, and the expectations for all stakeholders once it has been published.

Guidance

EPSRC have produced the following guidance on writing a roadmap.

Current Landscape

It is important that any roadmap is able to reflect on what the current landscape in the chosen area looks like in order to understand the baseline on which any recommendations for the future rest. Depending upon the technique, the precise questions may differ but could include:

  • Consideration of the number, location, and geographical spread of existing equipment. Are there clusters of kit at a local, regional or national scale?
  • How is usage spread across the different user groups?
  • Is there a spread of ages, or is there a dependence on aging kit?
  • Is it core underpinning infrastructure contributing to a world class research environment or is it a world-leading capability in its own right?
  • What proportion of equipment is focused on technique development?
  • What is the expected lifetime and how was this kit funded in the first place?
  • Would it be part of a basic well-found lab or does it meet strategic national needs to support excellent science?
  • What are the science drivers that define the need for the equipment?
  • Does new capital tend to be used to expand capacity or upgrade/replace current equipment?
  • Are there any gaps in provision?

You might want to consider how the UK compares with the international community in terms of the equipment available and the science enabled by it:

  • Are they complimentary or competitive?
  • Are they a step ahead or behind, and what would it take from either side to shift the balance?
  • Are there any bits of kit or facilities overseas related to a particular technique that UK researchers frequently access?

Availability and Usage

Once a picture of the current capability has been built, a natural step is to look beyond where and what the equipment is, and consider its availability and usage.

In order to understand the demand for a type of equipment, you might want to consider the usage levels and management of those in the current landscape;

  • Is it being used 100% of the time and if not, what are the limiting factors?
  • What would be considered as 100% usage for this type of equipment?
  • And are these factors typical, or due to significant downtime caused by, for example, periods of maintenance, material changeover etc., staffing resource or lack of demand?
  • Are Universities ensuring usage of equipment is maximised, and if so, how?
  • Is the equipment listed on equipment sharing portals so that potential users are aware of it and able to access it?
  • Is the equipment typically accessible by individuals and is infrastructure required to support external users?
  • How is the equipment being sustained and managed?
  • Do Universities have a view on the long-term financial vision for the equipment, and are there any costs that can realistically be recouped through, for example, charging?
  • Are there any examples of best practice in utilisation or models of operation?

People

All equipment requires people to support it in one way or another, though the amount of time dedicated to a bit of the kit and the level of expertise required will vary depending on the equipment type. In order to gain a full picture, you may want to consider the following;

  • What kind of people support is required, and how are they funded?
  • Do users require specific training or is it open for use by anyone?
  • If training is required, who provides it? Is training inclusive of results interpretation?
  • Where does the pool of users come from? Are they based in a single group, department, facility, institution or region, or are they based in industry or internationally?
  • What research areas use the equipment and what is the scale and balance between them?
  • Is the equipment used by researchers beyond the EPS remit?
  • Are there users across the career stages, from undergraduate to established researchers
  • Capital investments at all scales generate significant impact, so you might want to consider the various current and future impacts for which the equipment is vital.
  • Are there any examples of how the equipment has contributed to academic impacts e.g. journal publications?
  • What are the contributions of the equipment towards economic impacts, including but not limited to, further funding/additional resource received, IP etc.?

You may also want to consider internationally benchmarking the research being carried out on the equipment, though the ease of this will differ considerably depending on how specific or general the research is.

Future Developments/Horizon Scanning

As well as looking at the current landscape, you should consider what a future landscape would look like five or more years from now, and how it compares to what it should it look like. You might want to think about;

  • Any advances in the technique that are on the horizon
  • What the UK needs to do in order to either maintain, or improve its position in terms of being at the cutting edge
  • Whether there is a coordinated plan for refreshing capital in the future, and what the requirements are in the short, medium or long term?

Completed roadmaps

Roadmaps in progress

  • Tomography