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Evaluation by HCERES: a winning strategy to help INRA attain its goals

In 2015, INRA was assessed by an international committee under the aegis of the High Council for Evaluation of Research and Higher Education (HCERES). The final report was just published by HCERES: the overall strategy of INRA as well as key choices made by INRA over the course of the past few years were applauded. The recommendations put forward are currently under review.

HCERES evaluation
Updated on 07/03/2017
Published on 07/12/2016

In a 40-page report published at the end of June 2016, the international committee under the aegis of the High Council for Evaluation of Research and Higher Education (HCERES) applauded key measures taken by INRA over the course of the past few years. This was the second international assessment in the history of the Institute, the first having taken place in 2009.

The assessment procedure, initiated in July 2014 and officially launched in November 2014, took concrete shape in 2015 with a self-evaluation by INRA in late July submitted to HCERES. The following October, the international assessment committee, headed by Dr Tim Hall, former head of Bioeconomy programmes at the DG Research and Innovation of the European Commission, paid a visit to the Institute. The report of the evaluation committee, received in April 2016, was discussed by INRA’s Scientific Advisory Board, who formulated a response at the end of May. The main conclusions were then discussed by the Board of Directors on 9 June 2016. The final document, including INRA’s response, can be downloaded on the HCERES site.

Research and training strategy

First and foremost, the committee recognised INRA as a world leader in life sciences and agriculture. The Institute is quickly gaining ground, however, in environmental sciences and nutrition.

In the committee’s opinion, INRA’s strategy is in line with the national research strategy and goals of the European programme Horizon 2020, and the Institute is playing an important role when it comes to implementing that programme at national and regional level. At national level, the breakdown of research into eight key topics through metaprogrammes was seen as a big plus.

At a local level, the breakdown of the national strategy into research topics at each of the 17 centres was recognised as a real asset that shows partners that the Institute is committed to partnerships between sites, for example IdEx, I-SITE, etc.

For the next contract of agreed objectives (Contrat d’Objectifs), INRA will go a step further and announce its policy regarding the role it plays in training and higher education, notably when it comes to relationships with doctoral and master degree programmes. INRA’s Scientific Advisory Board has also decided to examine this question via a dedicated work group.

Partnerships and international visibility

The individual expertise of INRA researchers, whose goal it is to inform public policy and keep partners as well-informed as possible, was boosted these past years by institutional expertise supported by the Delegation for Scientific Expertise, Foresight and Advanced Studies (DEPE). The committee commended this development.

The committee also expressed approval of reforms in INRA policies for partnerships and transfer for innovation. Initiated in 2014 and finalised in 2015, this internal reform was inspired by efficient models such as the Carnot Institutes and preindustrial demonstrators backed by the Investments for the Future programme. As of January 2017, research and innovation will be organised by “innovation segments” grouped into several broad fields managed by an experienced researcher. The committee also applauded INRA’s European strategy, carried out at the highest level of the Institute.

Beyond Europe, the foundations for an open international strategy were defined in the project for a strategic orientation document through to 2025, #Inra2025, which is being finalised. The objectives are thematic rather than geographic, with particular attention paid to Mediterranean zones. It is based on national and international partnerships (Cirad, Agreenium, Universities), and will draw on common models as yet to be determined, and on the expertise of INRA researchers at international level.

Organisation, rationalisation and communication

The diversity of scientific output is crucial for a targeted research establishment such as INRA. The committee recommended that INRA take an inventory and measure the impact of its non-academic publications, the better to tap into their full potential. To do so, the Institute should take advantage of ProdINRA archives and draw on studies carried out to better understand the impact of public agricultural research (see ASIRPA).

The committee made note of the relatively complex matrix organisational structure of INRA, but acknowledged that it is probably the best solution given the diversity and high stakes of the Institute’s work.
The committee made some recommendations for boosting dialogue between science and society, which already informs thinking about changes underway in the Institute, especially under the leadership of the Head of Science in Society, nominated in July 2015 at management level, to identify, coordinate and stimulate steps taken by INRA in the matter.

Lastly, the committee applauded the quality of INRA’s external communication, but recommended that particular attention be paid to internal communication. The implementation of the #Inra2025 orientation document will be the perfect opportunity to do so, thanks to dedicated tools.