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< Contents ERCIM News No. 59, October 2004

The EU Information Society Technologies Programme Advisory Group - ISTAG

by Michael Wilson

In planning the Information Society Technologies (IST) programme, the European Commission Directorate-General for "Information Society" takes advice and guidance from many sources. These include consultations with past and present project managers, and active researchers through questionnaires and consultation meetings before major changes to the programme. One of the standing bodies which is available to the European Commission for consultation on the IST programme is the IST Advisory Group (ISTAG).

ISTAG has been set up to advise the Commission on the overall strategy to be followed in carrying out the IST thematic priority and related activities of research as well as on the orientations with respect to the European Research Area by helping to stimulate the corresponding European research communities.

In the context of building an IST European Research Area, a key role of ISTAG is to reflect and advise on the definition and implementation of a coherent research policy in Europe. This policy should ensure the mastering of technology and its applications and should help strengthen industrial competitiveness and address the main societal challenges. It is through such an exercise that recommendations on priorities and activities of Community-funded research in IST would be drawn.

ISTAG members are appointed as individuals rather than to explicitly represent the interests of a single group, since formal representation would result in too large a body to reach significant decisions. ISTAG has a Chairman and 30 members who provide a reasonable coverage across the EU member and accession states (including Rumania and Bulgaria), companies (eg Nokia), research institutes (eg DFKI GmbH), standards bodies (eg W3C), universities (eg Open University of Catalonia), national funding agencies (eg EPSRC in the UK) and even politicians (eg a member of the Parliament of Estonia). Among these individuals two are members of ERCIM institutes who can present the interests of ERCIM: the chairman Prof. Encarnacao of the Fraunhofer ICT Group in Germany and Prof Michael Wilson, CCLRC, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, UK. ERCIM also provides all ISTAG members with its publications.

The objectives of the IST thematic priority are not purely to produce the highest quality research in Europe which can be exploited by European companies, but also to meet the broader objectives of the European Union established by the treaties and Council of Ministers. Any advice which ISTAG offers the CEC is only taken as a recommendation on priorities and can be overruled by other factors. For example, ISTAG cautioned that the implementation of the new funding instruments in the 6th Framework Programme would not achieve the objective of freeing research management without more independent financial control, but the powers of the commission under the treaties prevented them from devolving more financial control to consortia, and the resulting instruments were implemented as we now have them. Similarly, ISTAG has not strongly supported proposals for European Technology Platforms (ETP) as a suitable instrument to structure research and innovation in the ICT area in FP7, although they are supported by industries with a different structure, such as aerospace.

ISTAG meets in plenary session quarterly to establish working groups and report on their progress. The topics for working groups are established by the commission in consultation with the chairman, although as ISTAG gains confidence through working together they are beginning to propose topics themselves (eg to address legal issues potentially arising from ICT research).

The three topics addressed by working groups in 2003 reflected three stages in the innovation cycle: IST Research Content which mainly developed the Ambient Intelligence vision to guide the structure of future work programmes; the implementation issues of Human resources, research infrastructures, funding mechanisms and partnership; the exploitation of research results.

In 2004 the topics considered take a different approach, considering the topics for research in terms of a complementary vision of the Grid, but also considering Grand Challenges to structure research objectives rather than using visions and roadmaps alone; to consider a particular instrument for promoting innovation through Experience and Application Research Centres (EARC); and to consider actions that can be taken as EU-wide initiatives to promote and advance European research and technology beyond the existing IST programme instruments and work programme structure.

For further information, past working group reports and drafts of those under development are available on the ISTAG web site.

ISTAG web page:

Please contact:
Michael Wilson, CCLRC
Tel: +44 1235 446619