FAQ: How does the RCN model differ from the Virtual Institute (VI) model?

While the purpose of an RCN is similar to that of a VI, RCNs differ from the VI model in several ways.

Research Coordination NetworkVirtual Institute
Membership is not linked to a specific line of funding and teams do not compete directly. Successful research funding selected through competitions across cooperating SMD Divisions.Membership and funding determined by competition between teams that propose to a single program.
Since members come from many different annually competed solicitations with varying periods of performance (1-5 years), the RCN membership is continually refreshed.Members come from a periodic solicitation (2-3 years) with a fixed period of performance (~5 years), leading to periods of constant membership that is intermittently refreshed.
Member teams vary in size ($-$$$, 1-10+ funded researchers).All member teams are roughly the same size ($$$, ~15+ funded researchers).
Membership is elective. While researchers are eligible to be a member of an RCN if their research grant is selected, they are not required to be a member. Membership is not a criterion for selection of the research grant.Membership and research funding are linked. If research teams are selected, they must become members. Researchers propose to address additional Institute objectives, which is a criterion for selection.
Coordinated through a small team of scientists.Coordinated through a “central node” of NASA administrators.
Very light management (3-4 PIs, part time) with fewer services at the RCN level. Extra services are provided on an as-needed basis by the Astrobiology Program for all members of the broader community.The central node has a larger staff (6-10 FTEs) and overhead, that provides managerial oversight and additional support for its members as well as some of the broader community.
RCNs are effective in situations where the community is already established but benefits from a framework to self-organize topics/research foci.VIs are effective at building an interdisciplinary community from the ground up, building bridges between disparate communities.
RCNs are reviewed every five to six years.The NAI was reviewed once in twenty years (in 2007).

Astrobiology FAQ