Writing a successful Horizon Europe proposal is not a simple task. The process includes months of meetings, many proposal development workshops, and then the actual proposal-writing. Those involved in the process (and there will be many), will want to ensure the most competitive proposal possible is submitted. The proposal then goes through an arduous evaluation process, with all three sections of the proposal (Excellence, Impact, and Implementation Sections) scrutinised by expert evaluators, meaning all three sections of the proposal need to be solid to stand any chance of success.
Implementation i.e., the third chapter of the proposal is often undervalued as the “administrative” part of the proposal. Busy with various tables the European Commission (EC) requires candidates to complete about their projects work packages, deliverables, milestones, risks, and budgets, many overlook the significance of the Implementation section. This can leave evaluators with a lack of confidence as to whether or not the proposed project can actually be delivered, either by way of bold claims which over promise, or due to negligent managerial practices.
“Exaggerating” your project’s implementation structure without ensuring its timely execution can lead to significant difficulties further down the line. This can mean having a management structure too complex to achieve, e.g., arranging too many boards and committees, unnecessary tasks, burdensome report writing, and issues with budgets, to name but a few. The critical thing to remember is that once a project is funded, the plan presented in the Implementation Section forms the basis of the contractual obligation which must then be executed.
What is the Implementation Section about?
At the most basic level, writing the Implementation Section of a Horizon Europe proposal involves detailing how the project will be executed, including the activities, timeline, resources, and management structure.
Here are some steps to follow when writing the implementation section of your proposal.
One of the biggest issues with Horizon Europe proposals is that different partners are in charge of writing their own work packages. Although this is quite a common practice to specify each work package to certain expertise and knowledge, having different partners write their own work packages can lead to a work plan with questionable logic, typically not well-orchestrated, consisting of logical gaps and unwanted overlaps. In some cases, this practice leads to a project presentation that lacks a clear backbone, making the entire implementation structure incoherent. The worst-case scenario is presenting a project which is almost impossible for evaluators to understand, and partners to execute.
When writing work packages, a coherent, logical framework is the best approach to adopt. Invest time in planning and ensure a clear presentation, utilising effective use of visuals where applicable (Gantt chart, PERT diagram, Management Organogram etc.). Ensure all partners input about their capabilities, capacities, needs and expectations from the project. However, remember it is imperative to have a unified single voice, presenting a single logical pathway in the way the plan is presented. Use the partners’ input to structure the work plan, and if necessary, to write their own work plan. But try to appoint a single person to review and edit all work packages to ensure consistency, before submitting.
Once the work packages have been created (with a single voice), ask the partners to review to ensure there are no logical gaps or overlaps in workload. If any aspect of the work plan is missing, consider if an existing partner has the expertise and capacity to fulfil that gap, or consider recruiting an additional partner.
Tip: Work with the partners to agree on the interdependency and timeline of the various activities. This should be done at the level of tasks and not just at the level of work packages. Going this extra mile will force the partners to think in more detail about their suggested work (this will be beneficial both during the evaluation and the execution of the project). These details might be based on a rough estimation at the time of the proposal making; however, it is better to have rough estimations than no estimations at all.
Deliverables serve as a means of monitoring project progress during the lifetime of the project. Additionally, and possibly more importantly, deliverables become official contractual obligations under the grant agreement. It is crucial to remember deliverables are produced in addition to the progress reports required by the EC. A typical mistake made by applicants is thinking that more equals better. However, evaluators are not looking for a never-ending list of deliverables, but a logical framework in the way the work plan is presented, containing a logical set of deliverables.
Tip: It is recommended to list 2 to 3 well-defined logical deliverables per work package. This number of deliverables will in most cases satisfy the evaluators, without risking overloading the partners during the project’s implementation.
Similar to the deliverables, milestones also serve as a means of progress reporting during the project execution. They also become official contractual obligations under the grant agreement. The typical mistake, as with deliverables, is listing too many milestones in the proposal. It is recommended to have about 5 milestones for the entire duration of a 3-year project (for longer durations, add 1-2 milestones max). Importantly, evaluators are looking for logic in the plan.
Another aspect to consider about milestones in Horizon Europe proposals is the requirement for “means of verification” i.e., how you are going to demonstrate reaching each milestone. On the whole, any kind of dedicated written evidence will suffice. Additionally, try and link milestones to one (or more) of the existing deliverables. In doing so, you will provide means of verification to the milestones and avoid writing another document, saving you time and work during the project execution.
Horizon Europe proposal budget
There are two main approaches for preparing a Horizon Europe budget:
- Top-down, the coordinator and/or the partners decide to split the budget in a predefined way, while each of the partners is responsible for the inner structure of the budget share they receive.
- Bottom-up, the budget is constructed based on the actual specific details of the project’s work plan.
It is recommended to utilise the second approach when constructing the budget. For both the evaluation and project execution, the second approach is more realistic, accurate, reliable, convincing, and eventually more relevant for execution. The first approach might evoke negative feedback and many unwanted questions from reviewers during the evaluation if the allocated budget doesn’t match the partners workload. If it does get passed the evaluators, you will probably end up with multiple problems during execution when some partners might struggle to deliver their share of the work based on the budget they’ve been allocated.
Tip: Linking the budget closely to a detailed work plan will be beneficial to both the project and the partners. Having a detailed plan is important for making the right impression during the evaluation and helping run a more efficient project during implementation.