Taking the variety of disciplines into account
ANR's President and CEO, looks back at 2019 and the continued work on the initiatives launched since 2017.
The 2021-2030 research planning act will have a significant impact on ANR. Has the past year helped you move towards this evolution?
The act brings the budgets for French research back to growth and offers prospects for strengthening its position on the international stage. It consolidates ANR's missions within the research and innovation ecosystem and strengthens its resources for intervention so that it can better respond to the needs of laboratories and institutions: increasing success rates, increasing Préciput funding and adapting the means of support to the needs of different scientific disciplines.
In line with its primary mission, ANR will continue to allocate a substantial proportion of its funding via an "investigator-driven" approach, i.e. through non-targeted calls for proposals. This is where scientific and technological breakthroughs and original solutions often emerge. The Agency will take the varied needs of disciplines and projects into account in terms of both resources and duration. Support for young researchers is a priority. We support over 300 of them every year across all disciplines and all sites.
Research is needed in many fi elds, and ANR has a detailed knowledge of research and its evolution through the almost 19,000 projects it has fi nanced since it was founded. The Agency helps to expand the contribution of research to the public policy put forward by central and local governments. In 2019, we signed a strategic partnership with the Normandy region to coordinate and simplify our dealings with laboratories and companies in the area.
2019 was also a year of recognition. It was marked by the Agency's evaluation by HCERES (the French High Council for Evaluation of Research and Higher Education), which involved interviews with over a hundred people, both internally and externally, including representatives of our various stakeholders, on issues such as the Work Programme and Investments for the Future. The HCERES committee, made up of French and foreign fi gures chaired by Rémi Quirion, Quebec's chief scientist and chairman of the Quebec Research Funds, commended the planning and evaluation processes and ANR's recognition by its French and international partners. This is thanks to the work of everyone at the Agency and all the scientists who are members of its evaluation panels, whom I would like to salute and to thank once again.
We have approached 2020 confi dently but clearsightedly. The Covid-19 crisis has reminded us all of the importance of research and the expectations it generates in society. The questions of scientific integrity and of the relations between science and society have taken on a more fundamental dimension than ever. ANR will continue in its commitments to scientific integrity, open science, gender equality and the spread of scientific culture. This is the basis of our next Contract of Objectives and Performance.
ANR helps to expand
the contribution of research
to public policy
The publication of the 2019 annual report coincides with the Covid-19 crisis. How have you responded?
The crisis has been a challenge for us, and for the whole ecosystem of higher education, research and innovation more generally. In early March, we put together an action plan to ensure our work could continue (see box). Thanks to the commitment and professionalism of our teams, ANR has been able to respond to urgent research needs during the lockdown.
We launched an initial Covid-19 Flash call to provide an immediate response, with the fi rst projects beginning at the end of March, and a second Covid-19 Research-Action call, open until October 2020, to take into account the full diversity and evolution of the questions that have emerged as the epidemic has developed. Keeping this call open, with submissions evaluated continuously, is a new approach that has provided a great deal of information.
The scientific committee and the Agency's teams have shown great commitment and exceptional ability to adapt. The urgency of the situation has led to great efforts in peer review and the quick delivery of funding, and has led to new partnerships involving other players that support research in our calls (several regions, the French Foundation for Medical Research and Fondation de France).
International collaborations on Covid-19 have also been developed with ANR's partner agencies. More than ever, we need research, and particularly humanities and social science research, to better understand the world in which we live and how it is evolving. The Agency's 2021 Work Programme, published in July 2020, gives priority to Covid-19 in order to take the long time scales of research into account and continue support for projects fi ghting the pandemic.
What are the Agency's other priority areas of work?
We must continue to work on simplifying and modernising our activities to streamline the process for researchers and institutions and make our actions more legible for both funding recipients and our fellow citizens. As part of the deployment of France's National Open Science Plan, we have set up a discussion and coordination network with INCa, Ademe, Anses and Inserm/ANRS to define a joint approach to supporting open science. We hope to continue this cooperation in order to reinforce the visibility of our respective calls for proposals and simplify and harmonise our procedures in relation to laboratories.
More than ever, we need research to better understand the world in which we live and how it is evolving
How ANR is supporting research
At the beginning of the pandemic, ANR put an action plan in place to ensure its work could continue and support the scientific communities investigating Covid-19.
The Agency announced a Covid-19 Flash call on 26 February, targeting four research priorities identifi ed by the WHO. As soon as the call closed on 23 March, the scientifi c committee selected 44 projects for initial funding, enabling them to begin immediately. Following the assessment process, 108 of the 258 projects submitted were chosen to receive €19 million of funding from the MESRI emergency fund, the Foundation for Medical Research (FRM), Fondation de France and the Occitanie, Grand-Est, Hauts-de-France, AURA and Pays de la Loire regions. The selected projects demonstrate very strong community engagement and cover a large number of problems associated with the epidemic. Many are interdisciplinary, combining humanities and social science components as well as digital and information technology.
Building on this call, ANR launched a further Covid-19 Research-Action call on 20 April, which will remain open continuously until 28 October 2020, to support projects targeting knowledge acquisition with results expected within three to twelve months. The Foundation for Medical Research and the regions remain partners for this call. Scalable in scope, it is able to incorporate new themes, new co-funding partners, international bilateral collaborations etc.
At international level, ANR has focused on coordinating and setting up collaborations between projects arising from national calls for proposals through bilateral relations with partner agencies, aiming to complement ANRS, whose actions involve countries in the global South.
In terms of open science, additional provisions were put in place in accordance with the international declaration on "Sharing research data and fi ndings relevant to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak" signed by ANR at the end of January 2020: research fi ndings made available via preprint servers, immediate sharing of research data, protocols and standards used for collecting data etc. These supplement the measures of France's National Open Science Plan, which extend to all ANR calls for proposals: the obligation to submit publications to an open archive and to have a data management plan.
258 projects submitted
108 projects funded
Head of the Physical Science, Engineering, Chemistry and Energy department at ANR.
Specialist in physical chemistry of condensed matter, Olivier Spalla left us prematurely in 2020. He joined ANR in early 2013 as Principal Investigator and later took on the role of Deputy Head of the Engineering, Processes and Safety Department. In 2016, he was appointed Head of the Physical Science, Engineering, Chemistry and Energy Department (SPICE). Passionate about science and technology, his commitment and generous personality left a deep impression on all those who were lucky enough to work with him. The ANR and his colleagues have lost an esteemed and appreciated collaborator.