No Clarity for Ongoing Operational Costs

Any view that programs funding large-scale ecosystem science infrastructure only need to provide resources to "create" infrastructure is specious. In fact, the original investment program for TERN really was only directed at creating the asset (Capex costs). That this was a mistake is now relatively well recognized; nevertheless, the lack of explicit treatment of ongoing operating costs (Opex) both in assessing their dimension and attribution of responsibility for them is a major structural shortcoming. From a TERN perspective, this shortcoming was somewhat ameliorated by the overlapping nature of some investments and more recent sustenance funding, but this is still not a sustainable long-term solution. Unlike roads, rail and other more classical ideas of infrastructure, ecosystem science infrastructure requires a significant investment in ongoing costs as there is no endpoint in building such a network.

Reliance on Partner Institution Goodwill

A consequence of the level of investment available, the short-term nature of the infrastructure program, the lack of response to ongoing operational requirements, and the geographically distributed nature of the infrastructure is that successful operation is dependent as much on goodwill of participating organizations as the legalities of direct subcontractual arrangements. Well over half of the establishment costs of the infrastructure were contributed by partners, and these partners expect return on investment. This funding approach is clearly a strength when considering the overall value from the support that was received. But this creates additional challenges in managing the trade-offs from all the competing interests of partners, while staying true to the core purpose of the ecosystem science infrastructure.

A flow-on effect from this, in the context of demonstration of the value of the investment, is that it is easy for TERN's contribution to be either lost in the representation of outcomes or, alternatively, for partners to potentially feel TERN is getting credit at the expense of the particular contributing institution. There is no simple solution to this and it is another area of ongoing management concern within the network itself.

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