As a new colleague on the Europa Media team, I eagerly anticipated the European Funding Academy 2014-2020 - Spring edition, which was held on April 8th-11th in Budapest. My concerns, expectations and previous knowledge were all mixed up in a simple and yet complex question – what does it take to be an excellent EU project manager, particularly under the new Horizon 2020 programme?
Coming from a non-EU country and having experience in coordinating various projects on the subject of international relations, I was quite curious to shift my professional course to the area of EU Research and Innovation initiatives. Participation in the Funding Academy provided me with an invaluable opportunity to learn, to share and to exchange experience as well as sharpen my project management skills (as there is always a room for improvement :).
The Academy welcomed 28 professionals from various EU countries representing different types of organizations. Some of them were experts in their field, but had limited knowledge about the complexity and opportunities provided by the EU Research and Innovation framework while others had extensive experience with past EU Framework Programmes for Research and Technological Development; they were set to develop winning proposals for new Horizon 2020 calls. There were also participants who had already taken part in Europa Media trainings, but were eager to perfect acquired knowledge.
While preparing myself for the Academy, I noted the excellent approach to the programme structure: --> from generalities and basics (Horizon 2020 and the Research&Innovation funding landscape for 2014-2020) --> through practical insight (Horizon 2020 proposal development steps), --> continuing with technical and financial explanation (exploitation, budgeting issues) --> to implementation matters (project set up and coordination). Having fragmented knowledge about existing EU funding initiatives (previously I was mostly involved in EU projects with the specific focus) I personally found the presentation on EU funding sources to be extremely useful. After the presentation all the intricate details on European RTD landscape were nicely organized in my mind.
The Funding Academy agenda, which included practical workshops after the presentation blocks enabled the participants to obtain comprehensive understanding of the most important issues relating to proposal development cycle. The workshop activities encompassed call analysis, consortium development, objective definition, work plan elaboration and budget planning. I believe that workshops boosted everyone’s comprehension of Horizon 2020 specifics due to trainers’ active encouragement of individual participation as well as teamwork.
As the cherry on the top, the presentations and workshops on understanding the evaluator’s perspective provided the necessary insight regarding the proposal requirements as seen by experts on the other side of the application process. I must admit, this section of the Academy was my favourite one. After learning who the evaluators could be and how the evaluation procedure is organized, the participants had to evaluate the proposals based on excellence, impact and quality. Surprisingly, I turned out to be a strict evaluator, but I am sure it will serve me in the long run – now I will always try to improve proposal finalization by putting myself in the evaluator’s shoes.
Equally interesting were the leisure events, giving the participants the chance to socialize and network in a pleasant and relaxing atmosphere. Apart from discussing past, ongoing and potential future projects over a glass of wine, I, for example, rediscovered (as I’ve been living here for 5 years) the ever-beautiful Budapest during the evening boat trip. Moreover, I learned the ancient secret of making my favourite dessert – traditional Hungarian pastry “rétes”. In addition, I gathered some “inside” information – most participants valued the training as Europa Media stands out from similar offers providing real hands-on experience and expertise delivered by skilled trainers, who have been developing and implementing EU projects for more than 10 years. I must add that apart from being professional, knowledgeable and helpful the trainers also managed to create a friendly atmosphere during the presentations by spicing up the technical detalization with funny real life stories and tips.
Summarizing, I would like to say that at first sight, it might seem that project management is easy, regardless of the programme you apply to and your field of specialization: you elaborate your brilliant idea in the proposal nicely; you gather a great team, have your proposal approved and then just successfully implement a project having regular performance checkpoints. But some proposals are approved and others are rejected; some projects are a success while others do not deliver. The Funding Academy made me realize that every detail is significant in order to succeed, whether it is that one seemingly irrelevant sentence in the call requirements, adequacy of allocated budget items or consideration of gender issues in the proposal. By embedding “learning by doing” component the organizers managed to achieve the ultimate goal of the training: participants not only familiarized themselves with proposal development rules and technicalities, but also acquired the practical and in-depth uptake of what is necessary for your idea to turn into a competitive and successful project. By actively engaging the participants, the organizers fully proved the truth behind the famous quote by Benjamin Franklin:
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn”
Although the first sentence of the citation should not be relevant for real professionals :)