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Funders – Beneficiaries – Advice

A winning trio for the European Programme FPRI-H2020-Horizon Europe?

This week, a shared vision by Jeanne COLLIN and Lorraine de BOUCHONY on our role towards project leaders: to succeed in using the complexity of the EU programmes’ frameworks as a tool to support the quality and ambition of European projects.

The European programme as an inspiration for a new culture

The Framework Programme for Research and Innovation is celebrating its 36th year and 8th programming period. Since its creation in summer 1983, the newly created programme has changed the game-rules of research grants: integrative approach, stronger links with the market, intersectoral consortia, TRL,….Project leaders must quickly adapt their methodology to the one required by the European programme and integrate the logic of calls for proposals.

Over the years, and even if we see an increase in the participation and success rates of some countries, the programmes are becoming more and more competitive and some organisations are moving away from these opportunities, due to a lack of capacity to invest in the process. Considered too restrictive and binding beyond acceptable, the expected project logic and its management rules still seem to be, 36 years later, an obstacle to the participation and success of some scientific communities.

In the current context where public subsidies are reduced in favour of other incentive instruments (loans, equity, etc.), investments are cautious and markets are increasingly tight, risky and interdisciplinary projects of large scale, costly and requiring an ever greater “critical mass” are expected. The old subsidy approach, and more specifically the operating logic, can no longer be used.

The programme has also developed a co-construction culture. But yet, not enough actors and citizens are aware of the process of co-creating work programmes: feedback from Thematic Groups/ NCPs, Managing Authorities and intermediary bodies, or participation in Public Consultations, are keystones for the appropriation of the programmes.

On the dawn of the next programming period 2021-2027 and the HORIZON EUROPE programme, which will start on 1 January 2021, it is necessary to continue the culture change that has been initiated. And above all, to go even further!

The sensitive link between funders and beneficiaries

The difficulty for the European Commission, in its programmes, is to keep its place. It cannot be judge and party, and must therefore select projects and monitor them with the utmost impartiality, while adopting an attitude of partnership and trust with consortia that lead projects, refraining from promoting its own will.

In this respect and to reflect its desire for this partnership approach, the title of the officials in charge of project monitoring has changed from Programme Officer to Project Officer. In addition, there are new profiles among the administrators of the institution, which is gradually developing sectoral skills according to the programme strands in order to better understand the projects. The risk, already experienced by our teams, is to end up wanting to guide projects and sometimes even considering that a researcher is a an administrator….

Furthermore, although the simplification process is under way and eagerly awaited by project leaders, the process is still complex and coercive. However, without a restrictive framework, without requirements, without rules for setting up and managing, how can we allocate the future €100 billion of the Horizon Europe programme in a fair and transparent way and manage the tens of thousands of funded projects (25,357 H2020 grant agreements signed since 2014)?

The necessary link of advising in the financial-beneficiary binomial

Mastering the institutional game when your core business is innovation or research within a laboratory or a large group is a laborious and sometimes unnecessary journey. Indeed, the culture of European projects has become a real profession over the past fifteen years or so. This expertise should not be limited to financial opportunity alone, as support for the setting up and management of projects goes far beyond that. Indeed, engineering of collaborative project involves knowledge, reflexes and creativity.

The institution itself understands this and welcomes projects supported by European practitioners. The dialogue is more fluid, negotiations are more efficient and many mistakes are avoided.

This raises the question of the consultant’s position in this trinomial. Neither a decision-maker nor an expert on scientific subjects, he is the facilitator, supports decisions and arbitrations, masters the rules and customs, as well as the vocabulary of the two parties. Above all, he defends the interests of the project leader, while guaranteeing the institution the rigour of the structuring of the proposal and the smooth running of the projects. He contributes to the vulgarization of science, which can be very difficult for the scientific community.

In this context, our role is to successfully use the complex framework of the programmes as a tool to support the quality and ambition of European projects.


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