Excellence is the first of three sections in a Horizon Europe proposal. It requires applicants to define what their project aims to achieve. The Excellence Section is marked against the following evaluation criteria:
- Clarity and pertinence of the project’s objectives, the extent to which the proposed work is ambitious and goes beyond the state of the art.
- Soundness of the proposed methodology, including the underlying concepts, models, assumptions, interdisciplinary approaches, appropriate consideration of the gender dimension in research and innovation content, and the quality of open science practices, including sharing and management of research outputs and engagement of citizens, civil society, and end users where appropriate.
In simple terms, applicants need to detail three things about the project:
- motivation, importance, and novelty
- objectives and concept
- chosen methodology and approach
Tip: Remember that this is the first section the evaluators will read, so it is your chance to make a good first impression.
The Excellence Section in Horizon Europe consists of two sub-sections:
- Objectives and Ambition
This is the same for both Research and Innovation Actions (RIAs) and Coordination and Support Actions (CSAs).
Tip: It is important that you familiarise yourself with the proposal template before you begin writing an EU funding application as it can differ between competitions. For example, proposals for the EIC Pathfinder and EIC Transition have a different structure.
Sub-section 1.1 – Objectives and Ambition
The Objectives section should clarify the project’s objectives and their relevance to the project. When presenting the objectives, you should:
- Refer to the specific topic’s scope, focus, and terminology – This is information the evaluators will have to hand and will help them understand the relevance of your project to the call.
- Be clear and concise – You should avoid long background text at the beginning of the application and jump straight into your objectives. Start with a clear message to the effect of: “The main objectives of this project are …”.
- Include specific conceptual objectives – These objectives should be clear, measurable, realistic, and achievable within the duration of the project. If possible, you should also include key performance indicators (KPIs) so that you can track your progress.
Tip: Keep in mind that your objectives need to be consistent with the expected outcomes and expected impacts of the project.
In the Ambition section, you will need to explain the extent to which the proposed work is ambitious and goes beyond the state of the art. You should do so in the context of the problem you wish to solve. To achieve this, refer to products and services already available on the market and any patent or publication searches that you have carried out. This will help the evaluator to understand the innovative potential of your project.
Tip: While it is important to show broad knowledge of the field, you should only include information that adds value to the application to ensure you stay within the page limits.
Sub-section 1.2 – Methodology
This section should outline the methodology that underpins your work and how it will enable you to deliver your project’s objectives.
Tip: Pay close attention to the topic description for specific requirements that need to be addressed in the application.
This sub-section should clarify the overall concept of the project, covering the models and assumptions that underpin your work. You should refer to the existing knowledge that your concept is based on to prove the innovativeness of your approach.
You also need to define the maturity level of the project through the Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) framework. You should state your current TRL and where you will be by the end of the project.
Tip: You can use visual aids, such as diagrams and graphs, to help clarify your concept.
Use the methodology sub-section to elaborate on and explain the scientific and technology basis of your project. You should also refer to any important challenges you have identified in your chosen methodology and how you intend to overcome them.
In CSAs, this sub-section is named “Coordination and/or support measures and methodology.” The distinction between concept and methodology is less clear, but we would still recommend separating them to aid readability.
Interdisciplinarity requires you to describe how expertise and methods from different disciplines will be brought together in your project. You should explain why this is necessary for achieving the project’s objectives.
An interdisciplinary approach is typically expected, as most topics require the collaboration of several areas of knowledge and expertise. If you consider it unnecessary for your project, you should use this section to explain why.
Social sciences and humanities
Some topics require the integration of social sciences and humanities (SSH) research. Where this is case, use the SSH section to explain their role in the project. Alternatively, you should provide a justification if you do not consider them relevant.
Sex and gender
In this section, you should describe how you have taken the gender dimension into account in the project’s research and innovation content. For example, concepts, methods, and approaches may need to be designed differently to account for sex and gender differences.
This question relates to the content of the planned project, and not to the gender balance of the consortium. It is mandatory except for topics which have been identified in the work programme as not requiring the integration of the gender dimension.
Here, you should explain how you have integrated open science practices into your methodology. This may include early and open sharing of research, research output management, and participation in open peer-review.
You will need to provide a thorough justification if you believe that none of these practices are appropriate for your project, as Open Science is a policy priority for the EU. You can find more information on this policy here.
Data management plan
You should include a data management plan (DMP) if your project involves the collection or generation of data and/or other research outputs (except for publications). The DMP should explain how your data/research outputs will be managed in line with the FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable) principles. You also need to explain how data will be stored and the cost of storage.
This article is written in a cooperation with our valued partner RedKnight Consultancy.