Collaboration, innovation, and beating the competition in Horizon Europe

This article focuses on the main aspects of successful and secure collaboration in the new Research & Innovation Programme - Horizon Europe, and explains the importance of efficient Project Management.

Stefan Detschew, CTO @EMDESK & Cais Jurgens, Network Development Manager @Crowdhelix | Nov 2. 2020
Horizon 2020

The need for European leadership in the face of multiple, chronic global challenges has never been clearer and gives credence to the €1.85 trillion recently approved by the European Commission for the EU’s next seven-year budget Horizon Europe framework programme, starting from 2021.

Of this whopping figure, €79.9 billion has been carved out for research and innovation, the largest tranche of funding ever allocated by the EU to provoke the cooperation of academia and industry as a driving force to confront urgent global challenges.

This framework, once simply referred to as “FP9,” has kept academics, researchers and innovative businesses in Europe and beyond champing at the proverbial bit as they scramble to position themselves for the seven-year research funding programme now known as “Horizon Europe”.

While institutions and businesses will be required to team up to apply for and win funding under Horizon Europe, just as they did during its success programme, Horizon 2020, the European Commission has added a “moon shot” theme to the coming framework programme by laying out specific societal challenges known as “missions,’ on which we will work to solve during the coming seven years, while armed with this sizeable budget.

This approach is designed to instill a sense of urgency, as well as inspiration in the belief that European and global cooperation can confront and solve world challenges. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has further cemented this theme, as its dire impacts are being felt in real time.

To map out these missions, the European Commission has highlighted the following five areas:

  • Cancer
  • Adaptation to Climate Change Including Society Transformation
  • Healthy Oceans, Seas, Coastal and Inland Waters
  • Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities
  • Soil Health and Food

The Importance of International Collaboration and Efficient Project Management

Regardless of the missions outlined, the approach to tackling them can not be done individually, or in one sector. At risk of sounding cliche’, it’s obvious that global challenges require global solutions, and therefore the key to successfully delivering results lies in robust and targeted cooperation between academia, business and society at the regional and international level.

An implicit part of this type of collaboration means building trust between organisations, knowing they are viable and that they can deliver the impact they promise through their projects, with their allotted funding and that they understand the need to be creative while forming new relationships between sectors and regions.

Quite often (and at this stage, quite rightly) a consortium looks at partner searches, proposal preparation (pre-award) process and a small army of evaluators freshly back from holiday as their greatest challenge.

And while at this point to perhaps a distant bridge waiting to be built and then crossed, the implementation of projects once awarded that run, are delivered smoothly and within budget is just as difficult a challenge, particularly to organisations with expertise they can deliver on but are lacking the experience in successful project implementation and delivery.

To enable this, we need systems, processes and approaches in place that a consortium, and particularly the coordinator, can rely upon throughout project delivery.

Jumping the Hurdles to Success

It’s important to note that the road to successfully securing funding from an EU sponsored framework programme has grown narrowing over the years. In FP7, the success rate for submitted proposals was roughly 22%. So far during Horizon 2020, that success rate has fallen to around 12%.

Therefore, it doesn’t take much guesswork to grasp that the success rate we’re like to see during Horizon Europe could be even lower, the work more rigorous and places within consortia with a higher chance of success that much more competitive.

Success factors can vary for a number of reasons. They can be swayed by political trials and tribulations, such as the UK’s departure from the EU. Perhaps a solid track record is lacking amongst consortium partners in the area they are targeting, or maybe some aspects of a proposal are over promised and under delivered at the eleventh hour.

One policy brief from ERA Portal Austria entitled What factors explain application success in H2020? found that “H2020 criteria of excellence are more important factors for the success of a proposal rather than factors related to cohesion, inclusion or widening of participation of new partners across Europe. Interestingly, the result that consortia with a high share of universities have a significantly lower application success rate at the same time underlines the application-oriented focus of H2020.”

In light of this, it is more important now than ever to prepare as efficiently as possible, and to understand the key factors of success: An experienced coordinator and strong partnerships from both academia and industry and then the implementation of an efficient, well oiled project management and collaboration strategy from the project's leader. This is where EU funding themed tools, such as Crowdhelix and EMDESK come into play.

Finding Trusted Partners Through Crowdhelix

To address the challenge of building a strong consortium with the expertise and experience to help accomplish these missions through the project they’ve been awarded, Crowdhelix has launched dozens of clusters (Helixes) on their technology platform.

Each Helix acts as a virtual eco-system designed to facilitate academia and industry collaboration from a network of hundreds of trusted partner organisations, businesses and other potential stakeholders.

These Helixes, (of which more are added throughout the year) exist in areas ranging from areas such as Health, Energy, Climate, Blue Growth, Food/Agro, Smart Cities and beyond. They are aligned with the missions of Horizon Europe and will play a key role in consortia building and project impact as European research centres, universities, SMEs and big businesses sink their teeth into the first calls for tender at the launch of Horizon Europe in early 2021.

With over €4.58 billion in funding won by Crowdhelix Network members in Horizon 2020, this success will be capitalised upon and exceeded during the coming framework programme. Once awarded, these projects will then need to be delivered efficiently. This is where partners such as EMDESK come into play.

Securing and Managing Your Slice of €80 Billion

Now that the partner search is over, we now turn to the challenges faced by a coordinator working toward the goals of these missions. As we know, there are several administrative factors in place to make sure that public money is spent wisely and to keep projects worth millions of euros directly on course.

There are solutions, like EMDESK, making these administrative challenges transparent and the technical process efficient. With a proposal success rate in H2020 of about only 12%, a software solution that facilitates the process of project planning and proposal writing is a necessity in every consortium.

EMDESK is a project and work management solution with project templates for H2020. Amongst the 20.000 users in 3000 projects, Europe's top performing organisations like CNRS, FHG, UCL, EPFL, KU Leuven or DLR increase their chances to succeed with EMDESK. The overall collaboration between partners while writing the proposal and drawing up a solid project and resource plan becomes more efficient.

Once the funding is secured a collaboration platform like EMDESK is of particular interest and value to project coordinators and the entire consortium, whether technical or administrative, that need project ready software that can be trusted to ensure processes, project scheduling and budgeting, work management, document editing, track expenses and finance guidelines, provide security and data protection, manage project benchmarks and track progress, secure IP, and ensure compliance with EU regulations.

While it is important to manage these aspects of a project, another crucial task is to get progress and finances analysed and compiled into periodical reports throughout the project run-time, which are then presented to the European Commission in order to request full follow-up payments. The mismanagement of this process can result in reduced payments and budget-cuts for the entire consortium or worse, the cancellation of funding.

As an all-in-one solution for projects in Horizon Europe, EMDESK project management tool covers all those processes in one place and makes administrative and technical processes transparent while facilitating the collaboration between the partners towards the project’s success.

Therefore, the combination of platforms such as Crowdhelix and EMDESK is a strong and trusted way to address the challenges that bookend a successfully prepared, submitted, won and delivered EU funded project.

At no time will this be more important to consider than as we position ourselves for Horizon Europe, its ambitious societal missions, and the €79.9 billion waiting to be allocated to the organisations, big and small, in the best position to deliver them.

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