The success of your Horizon Europe project is determined long before you start writing it. Selecting the most suitable Horizon Europe call for proposal of your project and carefully analysing the text are the first steps towards a competitive EU project, but are often the most underestimated by researchers.
It is extremely important to pay proper attention to these steps, because a research project that is not well aligned with the call has little chance to obtain EU funding. And this does not only refer to the respect of admissibility conditions and eligibility criteria (as detailed in the Annexes A, B and C of the General Annexes to the Horizon Europe Work programmes).
It is good to remember that all the words in the Horizon Europe call topics have a meaning and are included in the text with a specific intent. None of them can be ignored, on pain of the project's competitiveness.
Here are a few pointers for a careful analysis of the text of your Horizon Europe call.
The components of a Horizon Europe call text
Firstly, it is good to clarify the structure of a Horizon Europe call for proposal, and to understand what information can be derived from each of its components:
Specific Conditions / General Information:
- Deadline: it indicates the day and time by which the proposal must be submitted. It helps to assess how much time you have for the preparation of your EU project.
- Deadline model (Two stage or Full stage): as there are different application forms for the two modalities, this element helps you to assess how much effort you have to plan until the deadline. For example, if your Horizon Europe call is a two-stage topic for a research or innovation action (RIA or IA), you will first submit your proposal based on the Standard application form for Stage 1, requiring a short version of the project technical description (only 10 pages). Then, only if you succeed the first step of evaluation, you will be requested to submit a full stage proposal.
- Expected EU contribution per project: it indicates the volume of activities, size and ambition of your EU project.
- Indicative budget: by comparing the expected EU contribution per project with the budget allocated to each Horizon Europe topic, it is possible to understand how many projects can be funded within the topic, and thus to know the probability that your project will be funded. Please consider that in some topics, the expected EU contribution is equal to the indicative budget for the topic, meaning that the European Commission expects to fund just one project in that topic.
- Type of action (RIA/IA/CSA): it gives indications with respect to the type of activities that are eligible and that should be predominant in your EU project (research, demonstration, prototyping, coordination, etc.).
- Eligibility conditions: in addition to the standard eligibility conditions (or as an exception to them), some topics may include specific eligibility conditions, that should be taken into consideration.
- Technology Readiness Level (TRL): for those topics where TRL is relevant, you will find an indication of the TRL level that the project is expected to achieve by its end. This information, combined with the type of action, will help you clarify the expected activities and the right combination of partners expected (more research organisations in low-TRL calls, more business organisation in high-TRL calls).
It indicates what the expected effects of the project are, in the medium term. The project results should therefore contribute to these effects.
Although Horizon Europe calls are not prescriptive, this section of the text identifies the needs and gaps to be addressed in your EU project and the objectives to be pursued.
This part identifies the cross-cutting priorities that actions should take into account. For example: Ethics and Integrity, Open Science, Gender and Inclusiveness, Integration of Humanities and Social Sciences, International Cooperation.
What to look for in the Horizon Europe call text?
When reading the text of your Horizon Europe call, there are many clues, which help you to understand what the European Commission expects to receive in response to a given topic.
The suggestion is to read the topic carefully and look for the following elements in the text:
In the "Scope" section, verbs indicate which actions are expected in the project (e.g. "set-up", "develop", "validate"), and which will therefore guide the definition of the project's objectives.
Verbs such as "reduce" or "increase" recall quantitative measurers, thus indicating that the European Commission expects to read in the project both an indication of the current situation and values, and what they might be at the end of the project and afterwards, thanks to the actions developed in the project.
Verbs such as "shall", "should", "could", "is recommended", "is encouraged" give a further indication of the European Commission's expectations.
- Indications on the degree of alignment with the call
Often in the text of the call, for both sections "Expected outcome" and "Scope" you will find bulleted lists, preceded by phrases such as "all the following expected outcomes" or "most of the following research activities". The words "some", "all" and "most" will guide you on what the level of adherence of your project to the call should be.
- Examples, inclusions, and exclusions
Words such as "may include, but are not limited to" introduce examples of what the European Commission expects.
On the contrary, words such as "should not address..." or "are excluded from the topic" indicate themes which are not the subject of the call and therefore should not be included in your project.
- Indications on target groups
In the section 'Expected outcome' you will find indications of the target audiences that are expected to benefit from your research results. This will guide you in choosing the most suitable outputs for each audience, but also in defining your dissemination and exploitation strategy.
- Legislative or scientific context
In some cases, footnotes include references to external documents (either policy documents or background information), which will guide you to understand what has been done so far, what the objectives are on the policy agenda in your specific field, and how your project fits into this context.
- Suggestions on collaborations and synergies
Phrases such as "The involvement of ...... is encouraged" or "synergies should be sought with...." can give you indications on the types of organisations that should be involved in your collaborative project as partners, or synergies that should be created in the course of the project.
How to proceed with the Horizon Europe call
Some of the strategies used by Horizon Europe programme experts when approaching the preparation of a project include:
- Highlighting important elements and keywords in the text
- Dividing the text of the topic into sentences, and reflecting on each of them individually
- Creating tables or competence maps
- Sharing the analysis of the call text with the project partners
Analysing the relevance of your project idea to the selected Horizon Europe call through these strategies will help you identify strengths and weaknesses in the early stages of preparation, thus increasing your chances of obtaining EU funding.
This article is written by Serena Cogoni, Expert in EU Research Funding Programmes.