According to the European Research Executive Agency (REA), for each project, there is a PO at the REA who accompanies the consortium throughout the project implementation. As you are a project coordinator, the PO is your primary contact for any matters regarding your Grant Agreement (GA) and reporting on your project implementation.
Typically, the Project Officer establishes contact with the coordinator via email. In this email, the person will also introduce the Financial Officer and explain the steps ahead of the GA preparation. Also, in this email, there will be deadlines, and very important, if there are shortcomings to address from the Evaluation Summary Report, this will be added to the GAP Guidance on Actions.
In this first communication, the PO will likely propose to organize a video/phone call to get to know each other better. Therefore, it is good that you not only act proactively in giving your availability but also ask about their preferences to use the video-conferencing option (some officers have limitations using a particular video-conferencing product). After getting their feedback, make sure you provide the link for the video-call.
After you get the confirmation about the first video call, it is helpful to find out who the person is; a brief background check will help you understand their area of expertise and viewpoint on the topic and your proposal. Checking their LinkedIn profile can be helpful but also try to find out if the person has any publications related to the call topic; in a positive case, take your time to read some of them.
Going back to that first encounter with your Project Officer, which happens during the Grant Agreement preparation, these are some of the common subjects you will talk about:
- Changes in the Description of Action (DoA).
- Shortcomings of the proposal to be clarified (which hopefully will be minor).
- Partners validation process.
- Minor changes in the budget distribution.
You will go through the GAP Guidance on Actions document that the PO sent you, and if there are any questions from your side, this is the opportunity to clarify any issues. In some cases, the final version of the DoA is only done after multiple exchanges and corrections between you (and the consortium) and the PO.
You will probably have to start planning your project Kick-off Meeting (see these blog posts on the topic) while officially in the GAP. However, once you agree on a final date with partners, you should contact the PO to check their availability for the Kick-off Meeting (KoM). Don’t forget to send them the draft agenda so they can decide about their participation. It is a great advantage that your PO can attend the project KoM, because it will show the rest of the partners that the Commission is paying close attention to your project. Still, if you send a “late” invitation, the chances that the PO will show up are low; they are usually very busy people. During the project KoM, don’t hesitate to consult on overcoming the project challenges and, if the KoM happens in person and your PO can be there, dedicate some time to interact with the PO during the coffee breaks and project dinner.
After the big rush of the project KoM preparation, don’t forget to send the meeting minutes to the PO. Also, if your project has an Advisory Board or Executive Board (formed by organizations or experts outside your consortium), inviting the Project Officer to a first (and probably online) meeting is a way to show the PO that you are on track following formal procedures and that external allies of the project are also willing to guide to improve the project implementation.
In some cases, some POs share invitations to REA webinars on coordination, funding, etc. If this is the case, it is advisable to reply to his invitation, whether you are planning to attend or not. These webinars are beneficial and give extra tools to project managers and coordinators to improve their day-to-day work; thus, if you have time to attend, do it! And then give feedback to your PO about it.
Regarding changes in the partnership, according to the EC, about one-third of all consortia change at least one partner during the project execution, this is why you should be prepared for some changes in the consortium composition, and there should be pro-active communication with the PO already established.
In your dissemination plan, almost certainly, there is a list of relevant events connected to the topic of your project, don’t hesitate to ask your PO if he/she will attend any of these conferences so that you can meet and discuss any project updates in person.
When a project milestone is reached, let the PO know about it and share it with him or the launch of the website and social media channels; perhaps he/she is an active person in social media and can support the project by sharing news with their network.
Expected deviations in project results should be communicated to your PO. Also, you can consult with her/him about synergies with other projects and initiatives. You should invest in a good working relationship and inform the PO well in advance about any changes in the implementation in a less formal manner instead of waiting for the formal reporting periods. This will help you have a more flexible approach, resulting in less administrative burden for you as the coordinator, the PO, and the consortium.
For more on dealing with deviations and other project management cases, as well as how and for what reasons to keep communication with your Project Officer, join Krisztina and Gabor on June 8-9 in Eindhoven, for Part II of our Horizon Europe Academy. Check it out here.