This paper will report on work undertaken in the context of understanding more about the roles of non-university public research institutes in the European Union context. We have undertaken a historical review, mapping and characterisation of metrology research institutes, including interviews with senior managers to understand the evolution and recent changes in the institutes. We then undertook a foresight exercise, again with the managers and related experts, to gain an understanding of drivers for change and future scenarios.This sector is extremely interesting as it shows how managers have formulated and orchestrated a new funding model, namely a European programme of metrology research, which is now implemented as an Article 169 action. Highly diverse organisations (in terms of size, funding and research capacity, as well as in national context) now coordinate and share a common R&D programme, mainly as a response to static or dwindling budgets for research and also anticipating competitive threats from outside Europe. This case demonstrates the need for pro-active strategic management which goes well beyond the institutional boundary, into national policy and European decision-making. As other areas of European research begin to think about the importance of European cooperation, this sector allows some interesting lesions to be drawn.