Mediation Process Working Groups Submit Recommendations for Decision
Jülich, 9 March 2015 – The mediation process for the Human Brain Project (HBP) is now entering its decisive phase. In October 2014, the HBP’s board of directors (BoD) commissioned a mediation report from Prof. Wolfgang Marquardt. Two working groups of 30 international experts, both within the project and external, have now delivered their recommendations for action to the BoD who will make a decision on the proposals in their meeting on 17/18 March. The report will be published after the decision has been taken. The members of the mediation group are experts in various fields of research relevant to the HBP and have experience in science management and in managing large-scale projects in the public sector and in industry.
The BoD of the HBP formally initiated the mediation process in response to criticism of the HBP, culminating in July 2014 in an open letter to the EU signed by several hundred scientists. The letter demanded modifications to both the management structure and the scientific focus of the project.
The mediation group has now drafted a number of recommendations in parallel to the official review by the European Commission. The report has been delivered by Prof. Wolfgang Marquardt to Philippe Gillet, Chairman of the HBP’s BoD, and the members of the BoD.
In the field of governance, for example, it is proposed that management of the project should be entrusted to an independent organization to be established expressly for this purpose. This organization should be formed by the institutions that contribute most strongly to the HBP. The École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), which is presently responsible for coordinating the project, would be one of the institutions involved. The new organization would take over coordination of the HBP and is supposed to remain in place after the end of funding in order to further develop the IT platforms created in the HBP and to ensure permanent user operation.
In restructuring the management of the HBP, it is recommended that care should be taken, in accordance with the established principles of good governance, that a clear separation is made between the functions of research, development of scientific strategy, project management, and project monitoring. These functions should each be undertaken by different bodies. The mediation group also recommends that bodies which decide on the distribution of the budget or which are responsible for quality assurance should incorporate external experts. The members of the decision-making bodies must not work in projects which are affected by these decisions.
In the science sector, the mediation group recommends that the scientific programme should prioritize its activities, focus on the most important in order not to dilute the available funding in this ambitious project. The HBP has been the target of criticism because it was perceived as a neuroscience project with the long-term goal of simulating the human brain and thus accelerating the development of diagnostic methods and treatments. Greater emphasis should be given, in particular, to the interdisciplinary development and testing of IT platforms for neuroscience and for clinical neurology and psychiatry and the demonstration of the value added, in particular in neuroscientific research processes. All experiments performed within the framework of the HBP should relate to the goal of platform development and validation. The platforms should be developed in close interaction and cooperation with scientists in neuroscience, medicine, and the relevant technology-oriented fields.
The planned removal of the systemic and cognitive neurosciences from the HBP Core Project and their reassignment to Partnering Projects was one of the major points of criticism in the open letter to the EU. Whereas the Core Project is expecting to receive about € 440 million from the EU as an FET (Future and Emerging Technologies) Flagship over a period of 10 years, funding of the Partnering Projects as outlined by the European Commission remains to be found.
Against this background, the mediation group recommends that systems and cognitive neurosciences should be reinforced as cross-cutting projects linking existing subprojects. These cross-cutting projects are intended to bring together research on specific issues of systems and cognitive neurosciences in several work packages. The cross-cutting projects should be funded by a redistribution of resources from the existing subprojects, i.e., from the Core Project of the HBP. The mediation group recommends that this should be decided by the project management on the basis of an evaluation of the scientific quality and the compatibility of the research with the mission of the HBP.
It is furthermore recommended with respect to the Partnering Projects that the HBP should be structured in such a way that the most important project goals can be achieved with the aid of EU funding in the Core Project.
Finally, the mediation group recommends that the HBP should further develop and maintain a constructive scientific discourse with the scientific communities and the general public.
The decision of the BoD concerning the recommendations of the mediation group is the next important step in the mediation process. The mediation process will be successfully completed if the recommendations of the mediation group are accepted and responsibly implemented.
Mediation Office for the Human Brain Project
Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH