An insider’s view to redress in Horizon 2020
There is a standard mechanism in the Horizon 2020 proposal evaluation process (similarly to the previous framework programmes) that is not frequently discussed and covered compared to other aspects of the same sequence: the redress procedure.
There are three possible outcomes of an Evaluation Summary Report (ESR) sent by the EC to inform the consortium how their proposal performed. The best case scenario is when your scores are flying high and you are informed that based on these results your proposal has reached the stage of Grant Agreement preparation. In this case you are happy and you proceed accordingly.
Worst case scenario means that the received scores are not sufficient to catapult your proposal to the project implementation phase and the evaluators’ comments in the ESR follow through systematically the weaknesses, flaws and shortcomings of your concept (out of scope, not sound, not credible etc), or the proposal itself (not enough/too ambitious, weak impacts, insufficient consortium). Even though sometimes it is tough to face such objective criticism, most of the time swallowing your pride will reveal that those cited issues were indeed present and you have a chance to improve your related skills based on this feedback to have better success in your next venture.
There is a third potential outcome, which is kind of a mixture of the previous two. On one hand your scores clearly indicate that your proposal did not meet the required standards, thus cannot be ranked for funding, but on the other hand the reasoning behind those scores raise some doubts on your side whether the evaluators have managed to grasp fully the essence of your idea. For such instances the consortium has a tool at its disposal to challenge the result by initiating a redress procedure. This is the part where blacks and whites transform into the 100 shades of gray and you will have to be extra careful to remain objective on your claims, because only remaining on those grounds you may hope a different outcome. If you start making claims on subjective matters (statements starting with the phrases „in our opinion…”, „we believe…” etc) it is almost guaranteed that your redress will not bring any new results other than the one you already have, a failed proposal. In other words, your reasoning has to be rock solid, pointing out procedural errors and/or inconsistencies in the evaluation process rather than clashing you opinion on the subject with the evaluators’.
The redress process goes like this: The official e-communication from the EC with the Evaluation Summary Report as an attachment (generally received 4-5 months after submitting your proposal) includes information on the means of redress too. It says that you may request an “evaluation review” on the procedural aspects of the evaluation (not the merits of the proposal). This request must be submitted by the coordinator of your consortium within 30 days after receiving this communication (This is kind of tricky, because normally you wouldn’t be able to draw conclusions regarding the procedural accuracy of the evaluation process, per se, by simply reading the evaluators’ comments, but you can immediately challenge inaccuracies in those feedback that 99%-time qualify as confronting the evaluators’ initial comments).
If you decide that you will embark on this quest requesting the Commission to re-evaluate its previous conclusions on your proposal, be prepared that final decisions might end up taking up to 5 months total to receive.
Once you have submitted your redress you’ll receive an automatic notification from the Commission’s services confirming the creation of your request for redress. This notification also sets out the schedule of future actions related to the procedure. According to that, a reply will be provided within 15 business days after the expiry of the redress deadline. This response is either a definitive one (no further discussion about the proposal evaluation is possible) or it will indicate the time of receiving a definitive response (it may take a few months).
In our case, partially in line with the latter scenario, precisely 4 weeks (not 15 days) after the deadline to submit the evaluation review request we were contacted by the head of the responsible agency informing us that they will contact us as soon as our request had been examined (“reply planned for no later than 3 months” to the actual date), hence the term “non-definitive response”. At this stage you have nothing else to do, but to wait patiently and hope for the best. In our case we received the official communication on the very day mentioned in their earlier message (“no later than DD/MM”) at 6:30pm.
Unfortunately the evaluators did not share our concerns regarding the numerous contradictions and confusing phrasings that had burdened the first ESR. In this second document, the EC informed us that they did not find grounds to support our complaints. “The review confirmed that the evaluation procedure was carried out in accordance with the applicable procedures (...), ensuring fairness, transparency and equal treatment.”
At this point, 5 months after receiving the first evaluation summary report we have concluded that we have exhausted the available tools to raise our concerns, thus we have stopped pursuing any further actions in this regard. It was a hard pill to swallow given the amount of efforts invested in the proposal preparation, but sometime you just have to accept certain decisions.
It is clear that this lengthy process tests the determination and dedication of those consortia with failed proposals, however if you believe that your idea stands a better chance if it comes to a repeated evaluation, don’t get discouraged by the process.