Het aanvragen van Europese subsidies is vaak een langdurig en complex traject. Er komen namelijk meerdere facetten om de hoek kijken die van belang zijn. Bij TRIAS is Kim van der Heul een van de specialisten op dit vakgebied. In de afgelopen 10-jaar heeft zij veel ervaring opgedaan en verschillende succesvolle Europese aanvragen gedaan. In onderstaande blog deelt zij haar ervaringen en tips.
How to become a ‘1 out of 9’ EU-funded Research & Innovation grant proposal
Anyone who has some experience with the European funding landscape will agree on at least 3 points: securing a European grant is complex, competitive and time-consuming. However, if you succeed it can also be quite rewarding, considering the high funding percentages – even up to 100%. And this leaves many organisations with the question: should I invest my time and money in this process, and if so, how can I optimise my chances to succeed? Although there is definitely no ‘one-size-fits-all’-answer to these questions, in this article I will offer you some guidance for answering these questions.
Horizon Europe: The European Framework Programme for Research and Innovation
Horizon Europe is the successor of Horizon 2020, and in fact already the 9the European Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. The first European Framework Programme (FP1) was established in 1984 with the objective of strengthening scientific and technological collaboration in Europe and with a budget of over € 3 billion. Since then, its budget has grown massively to the current budget of €96 billion for Horizon Europe (Enger & Castelacci, 2016; European Commission).
When the cake is so big and attractive, it is no surprise that everyone wants a slice: for the Horizon 2020 programme there were in total 1.001.321 applications, requesting a total of € 478,9 billion. The overall success rate of the program was 11,97% (for Dutch applicants it was 16,03%). The question is, how to secure ‘your slice of this cake’ under this harsh competition.
How to become ‘a winner’?
Let’s first start with a disclaimer: I cannot offer you a formula which will guarantee you a 100% success rate. However, previous research has identified certain success factors under the preceding Framework Programme. This could help you to get a good start under Horizon Europe.
- Know what you are doingBeing truly informed about all the aspects of the Framework Programme is relevant for a better chance of success, according to Valsecchi (2019). And in fact, there is a lot to know, as Horizon Europe is an impact-driven programme based on EU policy priorities. Horizon Europe has a 7-year timeframe, but has work programmes with shorter time frames (mostly 2 years, but for the EIC 1 year), indicating the actual calls and topics that one can apply for.
The European Commission Participant Portal contains all documents that explain in detail the structure of the programme, underlying policy ambitions, the different global challenges, the work programmes for each of these challenges, the application templates, the evaluation criteria, and so on and so forth. This volume of information is probably one of the main problems for participants who want to get started with a new application; there are many different calls, and even more (and very lengthy!) documents to be found on the portal. The good news is that the information is available months before the actual deadlines. Starting early and taking the time to go through the documents will give you a big advantage, since you can ensure from the beginning that there is a good fit between your project and the call or specific topic. (And if you are still worried: please read tip 4 J.)
- Gather the right crowdAn important factor for success is how you build your consortium. The first way to increase your success rate is by choosing a coordinator with experience in European Framework Programmes to lead your consortium. Involving top-50 Universities also leads to a higher success rate (as it will positively affect your excellence rating), however an overall high share of universities in your consortium leads to declining success rates. This can be explained with the focus on higher TRL (closer to market) solutions within the Framework programme, and the likelihood for achieving societal and economic impact when there is a high involvement of industry (including SMEs) and applied research organisations. The success rate goes up further, if these are organisations with an excellent reputation and experience with these programmes (Wanzenböck, Lata, & Ince, 2020). Enger and Casdtelacci (2016, p. 1611) similarly found that “the probability of succeeding is strengthened by prior participation as well as the scientific reputation of the applicant organization.” So, what to do if you are new at this game? First, try to strengthen your consortium with some experienced partners. You can find these for example on the Horizon 2020 Dashboard. Secondly, do realise that it might take you a few practice rounds before you are successful.
- It is not an academic paper
For researchers involved in grant writing, maybe an extra word of advice: grant writing requires a whole different set of skills than academic writing! Although there are expert reviewers, with in-depth knowledge on your topic, there might also be reviewers with a more generalist or economic perspective. Therefore it is important to adapt your writing style for the specific grant (and reader) you are writing for. It is still important to show scientific excellence, but it is also important to strike a balance between technological terminology and understandable convincing communication. Table 1 gives you a good overview of the different writing styles required for academic writing and grant writing.
Changing writing styles can obviously be difficult, but at least being aware of it could already help. Also, it could help to involve a non-academic writer to review or edit your draft. Sometimes letting a non-expert read your proposal can also be very beneficial, as you can check how understandable your text is to different audiences.
- You are not alone!And this brings me to the last advice (to be fair, not a completely objective one!): there are consultants out there to help you secure these grants and at the very least to make your life as an applicant a bit easier.
Feel free to reach out to me or my colleague Nitzan Merguei, if you are interested in discussing this further, or if you have any remarks or questions after reading this post.
Enger, S. G., & Castellacci, F. (2016). Who gets Horizon 2020 research grants? Propensity to apply and probability to succeed in a two-step analysis. Scientometrics, 109(3), 1611-1638.
European Commission Participant Portal
European Commission Horizon 2020 Dashboard
Porter, R. (2007). Why Academics Have a Hard Time Writing Good Grant Proposals. Journal of Research Administration, 38(2), 37-43.
Valsecchi, V. (2019). Horizon 2020-European research funding. Il nuovo cimento C, 42(4), 1-5.
Wanzenböck, I., Lata, R., & Ince, D. (2020). Proposal success in Horizon 2020: A study of the influence of consortium characteristics. Quantitative Science Studies, 1(3), 1136-1158.