The Proof of the Pudding is in the Eating…

In its capacity as Gold Sponsors of EARMA, Idox attended the latest ERA – Working Group event in Brussels on the 10-11th March. Intriguingly titled ‘Eating the Pudding’, the event brought together a large number of key players from across Europe keen to discuss and share their experiences of the previous Framework programmes and to use this to inform their current work on Horizon 2020 (H2020).

The event aims were described as:

  • Learning from best practices with the H2020 programme compared to FP7.
  • Sharing initial experiences and thoughts with key actors from the European Commission.
  • Sharing and discussing with the European Commission the ERA survey outcome and the feedback of the Technopolis study
  • Learning about the latest developments from Brussels: What is different in Brussels now a new Commission is in place? How will the new Commissioners work together and what will it mean for Research and Innovation strategy?

The event kicked off with a presentation by Derek Jan Fikkers on the outcome of a Technopolis study. It looked to assess research management performance success in the FP6 and FP7 research funding programmes. Through the course of the study, six factors were identified that enabled high performance and, on the basis of this, recommendations were made to the Commission to inform their implementation in the Horizon 2020 programme and to Project Coordinators.

The presentation drew on some overall conclusions to take into consideration when approaching H2020, both for the Commission and potential applicants. Derek Jan pointed to the importance of existing networks and the need for consortia to respond to change and that simple governance works best. Further to that, he drew on the study to conclude that consensus based approaches are more successful than top down approaches, information sharing is vital, but that HR management is a secondary factor to success, as are project management tools. Promisingly, it was established that regulations in H2020 have improved for the better.

However, the revelation that drew most reaction from the diverse audience was that Projects managed by Eastern European co-ordinators outperform those of their Northern European counterparts. The reasons for that caused some speculation – was it relatively new involvement in the process, leading to a more thorough approach? Or having fewer projects to run? The report itself stated that style may be a factor, in particular “Style 4” identified as a success criterion: ‘invest in one-on-one communication and build relationships’, which was found to be absent in the approach of some of the Northern co-ordinators.

Following on from Derek Jan, Ann Katrin Werenskiold from the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry drew on the findings of the ERA Working Group Survey to describe the key issues raised by the research managers and administrators in the room. Whilst H2020 rules and regulations are clear to specialist advisors the same is not necessarily the case for researchers. Furthermore, the two stage process has generally been well received; however, the overall feeling is the success rate is too low and competition too fierce.

With the issues and recommendations from both studies stated, it was over to Alan Cross from the Commission to respond. Competition came up, naturally, and with huge volumes of submissions (45,000 submissions with more than 2.1 million visits on the participant portal in Dec 2013) it is as fierce as the ERA Working Group described. In particular, it was noted that there were huge spikes for last-minute submissions for Marie Curie and Health. Budget was of course high on the agenda, and H2020 will see reductions in 2016 and 2017. Notably certain key areas such as ERC are well protected with its budget doubled from FP7. A further key difference of note in this programming period is the lack of special credits for SMEs who are collaborating in projects.

What emerged from the two days of discussion, is that having informed support can make all the difference; a great deal of time and effort is required in establishing consortia and drawing up proposals that face low success rates.

For support with H2020 bids and to improve the chances of getting a share of the pudding, email rc.research@idoxgroup.com.

By Zoe Wood, Idox

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