One of the most widely spread definitions of sustainability dates back to 1987: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own” (UN report “Our common future”, or so-called Brundtland Report, published by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED)). Anyway, the definition of sustainability may be different depending on the context, business, area of studies and research. In the frame of a Horizon Europe project, we can stick to the old but gold definition that a project is sustainable when “it continues to deliver benefits to the project beneficiaries and/or other constituencies for an extended period after the Commission’s financial assistance has been terminated”.
A Horizon Europe project can be considered as successful when its impact can be measured by the sustainable value of the project results. It means you may need to define a sustainable strategy very early in your project and plan effective dissemination and exploitation activities. Indeed, you must indicate, while drafting your application, sustainability pathways that you intend to follow for your project.
But how to ensure the sustainability of a Horizon Europe project?
Sustainability results from the interaction of exploitation and impact. For instance, a key factor in the success of sustainable exploitation is to turn potential project “customers” into participants by making them embrace the project idea at an early stage. It is also crucial for the credibility of the project that the sustained impact is also clear and measurable.
Let’s focus now on the key pillars to ensure the sustainability of your project
1. The findings of your project
Identifying at an early stage the needs to address and the expected results to target will help you understanding the project positioning. Document in a clear and transparent manner the results of your projects and their impact, focus on the benefits for end-users.
Tip: List questions that may help you understanding the current need, the expected results and possible exploitation actions.
- What is the need to address? How?
- Which are the expected results? How will you share them with the community, which dissemination and exploitation measure will you plan?
- Which skills and expertise you need to achieve these results?
2. The project consortium and related network
Establishing a proactive consortium is another key factor to ensure the success of a project. Sustainability of a Horizon Europe project is about not only good findings, but also about the people that are involved in the project. An active and strong commitment of all partners is key to providing high quality results.
Tip: Identify the end-users of project results and bring them on board.
- Identify their motivation to join the consortium & What are they bringing in the consortium?
- Involve implementation partners at an early stage and develop a shared understanding of project goals and the intended impact
- Identify their network & run the project activities in synergy with existing initiatives
Starting the project documentation as early as possible will help you to save time and work at the end of the project and identify at an early stage which project activities and results are relevant for which group of stakeholders.
Tip: Create a matrix showing the list of activities/results and the target group of stakeholders; you may even start listing dissemination and exploitation actions per stakeholders’ group.
- Highlight the innovation brought by the project, how it benefits the community (example based on consortium partners and external stakeholders)
- Establish an Advisory Board (AB) and include it in the project governance. It will help bringing the project findings to the attention of external relevant stakeholders (e.g., facilitating contacts, bridging project results/work/initiatives/needs to the attention of official bodies, policy makers, general public, and potential users. AB members may enrich the discussion and provide new inputs and strategies)
- Involve key stakeholders at an early stage and nurture the relation during the project life cycle
4. The inheritance of your project
Consider what results or products the project has to offer.
Tip: Make the exercise to imagine yourself at the end of the project and highlight the following:
- Which results has been delivered?
- Which resources have been used? Not only in terms of money and time, but also expertise, networks, etc.
- How results are accessible? To whom (=potential users)?
- Are the results of your project transferable into other areas?
- What has changed compared to the staring point? What is the difference in the way you are working compared to before?
- List further networking and exploitation action and involve the project partners
Finally, make sure sustainability becomes one of the pillars of your project management. Clearly defined goals, assessment criteria and commitment of a team creates the interlinkage between sustainability and innovation management. And when sustainability becomes one of the core values of the project functioning for its members, it reinforces research and development on its own.
This article is written in a cooperation with our valued partner Welcomeurope.