Our Survey with Horizon 2020 beneficiaries: your impressions on proposal preparation and project implementation

As we reached halfway through the EU’s eighth Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, at Europa Media we were increasingly eager to discover the opinions our colleagues in some of the key aspects of participation in Horizon 2020. To find out what peer project managers, researchers and funding consultants think of the current state of things in EU funding for research and innovation, we launched a survey consisting of six questions.

Here we show you the results of our own “public consultation”.

Firstly, we tried to understand the research participants’ impressions on a much-debated issue: quality and transparency in the evaluation of proposals.

As little as 9% of the respondents chose the most unfavourable answer: “The quality of evaluations is poor and the process is not transparent enough” – still probably too high a percentage for the Commission’s quality standards. The highest number of responses (40%) pointed to a need to improve the quality of evaluations, followed by the need to make the evaluation process more transparent. The most positive answer, “The quality of evaluations is good and the evaluation process is transparent”, received the second lowest percentage of responses, 20%.

Our second question referred to the novelties of Horizon 2020 compared to FP7: a bigger emphasis on impact and exploitation, as well as new elements such as gender dimension, innovation management and integration of new knowledge. We therefore asked participants whether they feel confident about addressing these issues in your proposals.

The majority of respondents (63%) do understand what needs to be addressed on these issues, however would require more detailed guidance and tools to better address them. On the other hand, very few respondents (9%) do not understand what needs to be addressed in the first place, and almost a third feels confident enough to understand what needs to be addressed and can appropriately address these issues in proposals.

We further wanted to better understand what Horizon 2020 beneficiaries think in terms of leveraging partners and coordinators’ reputation in the evaluation of a proposal. Very few respondents (2%) judge partnership completely irrelevant to the proposal chances of success (“An excellent proposal has a chance for funding even if its partnership is not strong”): the highest number of participants (40%) think that “An excellent proposal always has a chance for funding as long as it has an appropriate partnership”; this is followed by a 31% rather believing that “Having the right partners on board matters the most for getting a proposal funded”. The rest of the individuals taking the survey believe that “Even if a proposal is not excellent, it will have chances for funding if it has the right partners on board”.

Concerning more specifically the coordinator’s name, nobody believes that this does not influence at all the evaluation of Horizon 2020 proposals, whereas 45% of the research community considers it influential; 21% very influential and 27% as neutral.

Moving from proposal development and evaluation to the realm of project management, 71% of survey participants consider “Developing and submitting competitive project proposals” as the most challenging/demanding process throughout the full lifecycle of a Horizon 2020 project. It seems that once the project starts, technical implementation and financial management are not considered a key obstacle (respectively, only 8% and 9% indicated these as key challenges), thus suggesting that proposal development and evaluation are still the most problematic and least understood processes. 

Finally, on reporting obligations in Horizon 2020 projects, exactly half of the respondents only mildly agree on the statement “Technical and financial reporting procedures in Horizon 2020 are clear and appropriate”, while only 5% strongly agree with it and as low as 1% fully disagree.

Based on these findings, it seems fair to conclude that Horizon 2020 beneficiaries and potential participants generally feel that access to EU funding through proposals is still too complex: they place a high importance to the careful selection of partners and coordinators, especially looking at their reputation in the EU research and innovation landscape, and would like to see higher quality and more transparency in the evaluation process. Once they have obtained funding for their research idea, it seems that the technical and financial implementation, as well as the reporting obligations, are not a major challenge, but reaching this point may be so demanding that individuals are easily discouraged from trying.

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