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EC Audit of Horizon 2020 projects: “My Audits” – should I be scared?

November 12, 2018

Some days ago, we summarized the main changes of the new, Horizon 2020 Annotated Model Grant Agreement 5.0 (published during the summer) and their potential effect on the projects’ cost reporting.

However, having a new AMGA with several changes and updates on the eligibility rules are not the only changes that took place in the last months. Those of you who are using the Participant Portal frequently (by the way, have you noticed the “all-new” Funding and tender opportunities portal?) might have noticed a new menu item on the left side: between My Projects and My notification(s), with a pretty scary name: My Audit(s). So far, ours is “empty”, but a new action button appeared: AA stands for Access to Audits. In addition to this, a new section was added to the reference documents, called Audit templates, including links to things like “List of supporting documents for the Audit” or “Detailed cost breakdown”. When clicking on any of these new documents an empty word file opens, with a single line: Documents coming soon… I think this is quite classy.

 

Obviously, the first thing you may ask, what are these good for, and what do they mean? Now, either we all missed something important communicated by the EC previously, or it was not done loud enough, or maybe it’s just us who missed it. Apparently, it looks like that even the audit procedures in the future will be the same “faceless” procedure as now the cost reporting is: no face-to-face interaction between the auditors and the audited entity, just request(s) and list(s) of documents sent electronically to the Beneficiary, who uploads them to the Participant Portal. At least, this is how it looks right now.

My first impressions and concerns can be summarized under 2 main points:

  1. How do you feel about uploading salary slips (including strictly confidential personnel information), employment contracts, mission reports, invoices, and all those hundreds of supporting documents usually requested by the auditors to a server other than yours? Mainly now, when everything is echoing the GDPR?
  2. So far, at least during the audit itself you had the chance to explain yourself and your calculation methods to the auditors in person, as they were at your premises – this fact (besides some minor disadvantages…) gave you many benefits: discussing and negotiating the findings real time, often convincing them that your approach is as good as requested officially, even if it may not look fully in line with the rules at first sight. I don’t think this makes things better or faster.

Of course, my concerns above are fully hypothetic, as no further information or communication is available at the moment. Nevertheless, I think from now on it’s even more crucial to be fully updated with the financial reporting rules and the EC audit processes.

Finally, I promise we will get back to you on this once further information are available!

 

I look forward to discussing these in more detail and hearing your feedback and experiences at the upcoming H2020 Finance Academy in Budapest or at one of our other training courses on H2020 finances in Brussels, Madrid or Vienna.

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ONE PARTNER IS NOT PROVIDING HIGH QUALITY INPUT TO THE PROPOSAL: HOW TO DEAL WITH IT?

December 6, 2017

In H2020 proposals, where consortia often consist of 10+ partners per proposal, it is likely that partners will work at different paces. That is okay when you, as coordinator, know where to pull and how to approach to get the expected input from everyone. If your partners are committed to the project idea, even if timing is the issue, you will find a way out to get the input needed by being more present and remindful. But what to do when a partner is not providing high quality input to the proposal? Let’s discuss some management tips.

Resultado de imagen para management

Low-quality input may mean that goals are being met but the quality of work is just not up to par. If your partner is becoming more of a liability than someone who is contributing to the success of the proposal, it may be time to start asking questions, figuring out where things derailed and coming up with a fix for giving a second opportunity before taking tougher measures.

The Education Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA) of the EC advises applicants that “partners who provide low quality input to the drafting of application will not provide high quality input into the project!”. However, if there is time, we believe you could utilize certain management practices that might get the partner on the same ground as the rest of the consortium.

Here we have some tips for you:

 

  1. Provide meaningful feedback in a constructive manner on a regular basis.

As a manager, being able to provide regular, helpful and most importantly, encouraging feedback, is a fundamental management skill. Explain carefully why something needs to change and how that would improve the overall quality of the proposal. Involve the partner in discussing ideas for potential approaches that might lead to better outcomes.

Are you being clear on the input you want?

As a project coordinator, you should request for precise input and provide clear guidelines and templates so that all partners understand what is expected from them (e.g. points to be addressed, length of the input, etc.). Communicating thoughtfully and inclusively, might correct the course of the collaboration and achieve the expected performance and quality of input.

  1. Be tough but sensitive.

Let’s assume that didn’t work as expected. Then you need to be a bit more rigid but while being sensitive. Contradictory? Not really! If your partner is still not performing as you expected, you cannot use similar measures that you would use with an employee as the type of relationship is different. However, you could still push them a bit and be more direct by setting clear goals and high standards of what is expected.

Address your concerns and be sensitive and flexible to the demands of the situation. Your partner might not like being implied how to do things, but if you do it by leading by example and perhaps offering to work commonly on a task that can be done by both, the development of such common duty will be a relationship building exercise that will potentially allow meetings of the minds, standards and performance. Otherwise, you might want to share with the under-performing partner an example of input provided by a different partner, to better show the quality standard.

  1. Follow up

A good manager always follows up with partners. Be present and let them know you are there for feedback or guidance if needed. Look for things they are doing well and reinforce it. Make sure your partners can see the value of what they are doing and the impact it has. Recognizing positive input will help the partner understand your expectations and progress towards the set-upon standards.

Knowing the right time to cut ties

Letting someone go from a consortium is never ideal and should be treated as a last resort. But if a partner is not pulling his weight, then it might be time to follow EACEA’s advise and cut ties before actually starting to work together on a 2-year or 3-year project. Holding onto an underachieving partner could result in a poor quality of work, or on an over-workload for you. As a manager and coordinator of the project, you would see yourself in the position of having to work and play two roles for scaling up the quality of the provided input of such partner, on the top of coordinating the project and dealing with your other proposals.

This is a decision that should not be taken lightly–clear communication about the performance problem and an attempt at improvement should always come first. But if you see yourself in this dead-end, then make sure to do it in a transparent, respectful and thoughtful manner. Involve all the other partners in the reasons for your decision and make sure they understand and preferably agree with the course of action. At the end, is all about teamwork and looking for what is best for the whole consortium and the success of your proposal, you are just the one leading the ship.

 

written by Mariana Mata Lara

EXPLOITATION PLANS: FIVE KEY STEPS FOR HORIZON 2020 PROPOSALS

December 4, 2017

It can be hard for researchers and scientists to shift mentality from research for the sake of research to developing new products or technologies that should be ready for the market as soon as possible. It can however be very rewarding to succeed in this shift, and to help you in this jump, we have put together some tips to write a solid exploitation plan in your next Horizon 2020 proposal.

 

It all starts with devising project results (new knowledge, findings, new products, technology, services, etc.) based on you work plan, but which also ensure the delivery of positive impacts to society. For each of these results, then, try to carefully reflect on the five steps described in the following infographic.

 

For more resources and guidelines, please check the following links:

Written by Valentina Zuri

HALFWAY THROUGH HORIZON 2020. WHAT TO EXPECT NEXT?

November 30, 2017

The European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, Carlos Moedas, announced measures to be adopted for the Horizon 2020 Work programme 2018-2020, the final work programme of Horizon 2020 for the last three years.

In his announcement during the press conference, he stated the importance of the funding programme and how much has been achieved since 2014 until now as under Horizon 2020 there were 14 thousand projects that have created collaboration between countries that no one in the world is able to do.

We are just beyond half way as four years passed, and there are still three years to go. What happened concretely until now?

  • More than 14,000 research and innovation projects received EUR 25 billion.
  • EUR 4 billion went to SMEs under Horizon 2020 grants, including under the SME instrument.
  • EUR 30 million has been allocated to Horizon Prizes to support innovation for clean air in European cities, including green engine development and CO2 reuse.
  • Launch of the first phase of the European Innovation Council (EIC) to support high-risk, high-gain, breakthrough innovation to create the markets of the future financed with EUR 2.7 billion from Horizon 2020.

 

But how about the upcoming three years? As Commissioner Moedas stated in his speech, for the last three years there are still 30 billion euros to invest. We have 3 years to go and we need to focus, and we have to give direction to the scientists and to the researchers.

Next priorities of the Commission will also focus on cooperation with extra-European areas such as Canada or Africa:

We have decided to have 30 new flagships with total budget of 1 billion euros. We will work with Canada on personalized medicine, we will work with Africa for food, nutrition and renewables. C. Moedas

On the second part of Horizon 2020, the Commission will focus on fewer topics for efficient results as the press release stresses:

 

  • A low-carbon, climate resilient future: €3.3 billion
  • Circular Economy: €1 billion
  • Digitising and transforming European industry and services: €1.7 billion
  • Security Union: €1 billion
  • Migration: €200 million

 

During the Q&A session, different hot topics were addressed. One of them was the situation of the UK researchers and the request for more clarity about the UK applicants’ access to Horizon 2020 after 2019. In this occasion, Commissioner Moedas stressed on the fact that everybody in the science field feels very sad about the Brexit issue:

We should preserve the relationship that have been created through great UK and European universities. I will do everything I can to create a relationship for the future, but there is nothing I can tell about that now because it does not depend on me or on us. We will keep being open to the world and that has always been our motto. But we should all keep fighting on both sides.

When asked about the difference between the European Innovation Agency suggested by Macron and the European Innovation Council, Moedas stated that there is none. Innovation comes from different fields and we need to boost that breakthrough innovation that creates new markets. Highlights should be on the role of Horizon 2020 and this is for the EU to solve as the solution has to be at EU level, showing that he is not in favour of any inter-governmental solution.

All in all, we hope that the upcoming period of Horizon 2020 will be a flourishing one for the research and innovation EU projects and we look forward seeing and actively taking part in the extra-European partnerships.

 

written by Cosmina Bisboaca

Proposal Development Challenges. Building an International Consortium

November 13, 2017

Whether you are an organization with extensive experience in proposal development or a newcomer looking to develop a competitive proposal, you’ve faced the challenge of building a consortium, which is best suited to carry out the tasks envisaged within the Work Plan.

We all have close partner networks (organizations that we worked extensively with, and whom we can contact regularly in order team up in for a specific project idea) as well extended contacts (organizations recommended by our partners or those we know from other projects).

Team, Globe, Cooperation, Human, Together, Group

It might be relatively easy to build a consortium including partners from EU Member States, but what is the best strategy to follow, if the call requires participation of partners from countries we never worked with before, moreover, outside the European Union?

We at Europa Media tackled this challenge on several occasions while developing proposals targeting non-EU countries (for example, from Eastern Partnership (EaP) and Western Balkans regions) and are happy to share useful tips:

  • If you are as lucky as us to have a multinational team, make use of the added value of multilingualism: the initial search for the best partners can be done in the local language, as in many cases organizations might not have their websites in English, even if they have experts who are fluent in the language.

For example, for our new project, which is currently in Grant Agreement Preparation stage, our colleague did an extensive research in Macedonian, established initial contacts with relevant organizations and then the communication was continued in English.

  • If you’ve had any previous experience of working in the country/region, but you need experts in a different field, ask your local partners for recommendations.

While developing a proposal on EU-EaP cooperation, another EM’s project manager from Ukraine contacted her previous colleagues working in the migration field and asked for recommendations on organizations experienced in the fields of democracy, security, good governance from Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, and Moldova.

  • Once you have identified several equally professional organizations, conduct a background check on CORDIS to see their track record in participating in EU-funded projects.

As the regional interdisciplinary network is quite developed, we obtained a number of expert contacts in the case described above and then we were able to decide whom to invite to the Consortium based on their experience in participating in EU-funded projects.

It is a relatively new feature, enabling you to search for partners by country, key words, programmes and organization types.

  • As a friendly gesture, include a greeting in a local language in your initial email on potential partnership as a sign of being aware of regional peculiarities.

Be aware, of mixing, for example, Slavic languages in your email 🙂

Once you found the potential perfect partner to carry our local tasks, make sure to be as clear in your initial email as possible, however, without giving up confidential details of your project idea. Describe the call, potential consortium and required tasks and expertise. Based on the reply, you will be able to judge whether a partner will be able to contribute at the proposal development stage, meet the deadlines and fulfill the tasks accordingly. A follow-up call on task distribution is always a good idea, if you decide to include the organization into your consortium.

Remember, with the new Work Programmes already published, it is never too early to start building a consortium for your competitive proposal. Good luck!

Written by Liliya Levandovska


PLANNING PUBLICATIONS IN A HORIZON 2020 PROPOSAL

November 2, 2017

While preparing materials for our own training courses on impact, exploitation and dissemination activities under H2020, I came to re-read a classic guideline for researchers to understand the publishing process: “How to publish in scholarly journals”, by Elsevier.

 

This short guidebook gives quite useful information, tips and resources to early career researchers approaching the publishing world, and I thought in this blogpost I would try and discuss the main aspects described in those guidelines under a Horizon 2020 lens.

 

Once you agree with your partners on the outcomes deriving from your project, you can start thinking of which new findings may be worth becoming the content of new publications. While it can be pretty hard to estimate in advance exactly the types of results you are going to achieve, adding a realistic plan for publications to your section 2.2 can give a great added value to your proposal, especially if you’re submitting a Research and Innovation Action.

 

Where to start?

 

A close up of a logoDescription generated with high confidence

 

For each new knowledge item, you or your partners plan to write an article about, try to estimate the following:

 

1. The type of publication that can best fit your results.

 

A close up of a personDescription generated with high confidence

*Text from “Understanding the publishing process. How to publish in scholarly journals”, by Elsevier

 

2. Examples of appropriate journals you are going to submit to

Based on the type of article you have decided to publish, look at the relevant literature in your field and then carefully read the aims and scope of each potential journal on their homepage. Other useful elements can be the journal’s metrics (e.g. international outlook, audience, impact metrics, etc.), and open access options.

 

3. Open Access option

It is worth mentioning that H2020 does not force you to publish your results. For specific cases, e.g. if you are planning to protect a project result with a patent, or there are ethical/security issues associated with it, you are allowed to keep the results confidential; just make sure you include a proper explanation of the rationale behind this choice. However, if you decide to publish the results, then you are required to provide open access. This may take two possible forms:

 

A screenshot of a cell phoneDescription generated with very high confidence

*Table from “Understanding the publishing process. How to publish in scholarly journals”, by Elsevier

 

Both options are acceptable for Horizon 2020 projects (and you may choose different options for different publications in the same H2020 project), but remember to budget the necessary resources in case you plan to opt for Gold Open Access, which you can find on the journal’s homepage. Also bear in mind that, according to the H2020 General Model Grant Agreement, the author processing costs may be eligible only if they are incurred within the duration of the project.

 

4. Copyright issues

An additional detail concerns the discussion on the article’s author is going to retain its copyright, while granting appropriate licenses to the publisher. This might be relevant especially whenever you are going to use trademarks or other protected IP in the article, a frequent case for Innovation Actions for example. In such cases, you may want to briefly discuss the planned license agreement, as well as the potential type of user license, which determines the rights granted to readers. As a minimum in H2020, readers must be able to read online, download and print your article from online repositories such as OpenAIRE; you are then encouraged to provide additional rights, such as to copy, distribute, search, link, crawl and mine. Check this Creative Commons tool to choose the most appropriate user license for your article.

 

5. Estimated timeline

Based on your proposal Gantt chart and on the selected journal’s publication timeline, you may provide a realistic estimation of the publication timeline to evaluators. This is a useful exercise also for you, as you can double check if gold open access fees can in fact be charged to the project.

 

A screenshot of a cell phoneDescription generated with very high confidence

*Text from “Understanding the publishing process. How to publish in scholarly journals”, by Elsevier

 

6. Promotional plan for the publications

Whether you manage to have the published article before or after the end of the project, it can be a good idea to include in your proposal measures to promote it to the interested audiences. In case the publication timeline ends after the project’s lifetime, of course you should be realistic and include only cost-efficient measures, such as promotion on social media, on your personal website, or through networking activities. For publications ready before the end of the project, on the other hand, why not linking their promotion to specific conferences/events you are planning to organise or to attend as part of your dissemination activities?

 

7. Monitoring and evaluation

As you do with other dissemination and communication activities, you can easily include measures for monitoring the impact of your articles, such as the number of views on your articles, or if you use social networks such as ResearchGate or Mendeley, you can obtain further statistics such as the geographic locations and research disciplines of your readers.

 

To recap all this into a ready-to-use template for your next H2020 proposal, find here below a potential table describing your plan for publications, with a fictitious example.

 

I hope this article was useful for you; to suggest more tools or ideas to include this section, or share specific issues and problems you have encountered, please do not hesitate to e-mail us or tweet us including the hashtag #askEuropaMedia!

Written by Valentina Zuri

INSPIRATION FROM OUR OCEAN CONFERENCE & YOUTH SUMMIT

October 31, 2017

 

The 400 global commitments on actions for healthier oceans made at #OurOcean Conference in Malta on 5-6 of October, surpassed the 7 billion euros and it is definitely a success!  However, for youngsters that inherited the weight of a decadent Ocean on their shoulders, with a challenging gloomy future to solve ahead, the Our Ocean Youth Summit provided an enormous and unexpected amount of inspiration! That, is what I definitely take from this 2-day event.

 

 

Sustainable Oceans Alliance and the European Union, brought together 100 young ocean leaders from 50 nations to work on 1 mission: to find sustainable solutions for the Ocean. Unexpectedly, it also brought the highest existing caliber of speakers from the ocean community to get inspired from.

 

THE RESULT?

100 youngsters motivated to take the future in their hands and surf together the rough tide of marine pollution, ocean acidification, climate change, overfishing, depletion of ecosystems, endangered species and general human negligence towards the Ocean.

 

*Click on the image to be redirected to the video*

 

As one of the 100 participants, here are my three key takes-on:

 

WE ALL SUCK!

Although Lonely Whale Foundation uses this catchy play of words in their campaign to stop using single-use plastic straws and #StopSucking, I also take this phrase as “we all share the blame on this”. It is true, we all have contributed to this mess, and we all need to solve it together.

 

 IT IS TOUGH

Linked to #1, few months ago I read a statement from polar explorer Robert Swan that despite the obvious, it made me understand the level of inaction compared to the one needed and the urgency to do something about it. He said that “the Greatest Threat to Our Planet Is the Belief That Someone Else Will Save It”And when hearing Celine Cousteau, we all embraced that the path it’s tough and could be even tougher.

 

Tiago Pitta e Cunha from Oceano Azul Foundation simplified the path in a four-step process:

INFORMATION >  KNOWLEDGE > AWARENESS > ACTION

And although this is not something new, it is something we need to share and make contagious. Baba Dioum said in 1968 that in the end we will conserve only what we love, that we will love only what we understand and that we will understand only what we are taught.

SO, WE NEED TO ADVOCATE AND CATALYZE CHANGE!

That is the strategy that Charles Goddard, Editorial Director from The Economist told us is following through their yearly World Ocean Summit where they bring private and public sectors together to turn blue pledges into reality.

If advocating is not enough, then we should make it a culture.

Nathan Walworth from CoValence Life said we need to “Make sustainability a culture. Make a culture around ocean protection, climate change, circular economy. But make it without using those words”. His 4-step path:

SIMPLICTIY – LIFESTYLE – MINDFULNESS – COMMUNITY

WE ARE IN A BETTER POSITION THAN OTHER GENERATIONS, AND THERE IS HOPE

The highest of inspirations comes always from the living legend, explorer, pioneer and highly adored by the ocean community, Her Deepness Sylvia Earle. A woman that dove the once existing pristine and diverse seas and that has witnessed the disappearance of biodiversity hot spots, is the one who is more positive about change being possible and the one pushing for hope spots through her foundation Mission Blue.

Sylvia argues that we are in a better position now, because now we know. We know the problems we are causing, we know now that our actions, even far away from the Ocean affect directly the Big Blue. We know we have to do something about it and we know we need to do it fast. We know there are solutions and we know that we need to act as if our life would depend from it, because it does!

SO, WHAT TO DO NOW?

I will highlight my top 3 advices on this:

1. Collaborate with people that are better than you. Dan Watson from SafetyNet technologies said how we need to be onboard with people who are better than us, who challenge us.

We might be very good at something, but there are many others who are as good at many other things. Collaboration and multidisciplinarity are needed. And I would personally add humbleness, as shown by Sylvia.

2. Figure out what your currency is. Emily Penn, ocean advocate who has lived for the past 10 years at sea said to us:

“Figure out what your currency is. Figure out what you have to offer, what you are brilliant at. It could be graphic design, it could be raising awareness, it can be anything. Once you figure that out, use that. Don’t approach people by asking if they could help you, rather say what you could do for them and how. It will take you to wonderful places!”.

3. Never stop questioning, challenging or being passionate. Never stop being a kid and be humble. This is actually a mixed advice coming from two different people.

– John Brincat, Commissioner at DG MARE pulled me from my arm on my way out of one session to tell me that I gave a great remark. He then asked me to never stop being myself, never stop questioning what is given and challenging it. He said that when money and commitments come, people tend to change priorities. I believe this is something we must keep in mind and alive.

– Never stop being a kid. This one comes from Sylvia Earle. She says that scientists are little kids who never grew up and never lost the sense of wonder. Scientists have curiosity, who, what, where, why, when, and how. Just like a five-year-old kid!

– Humbleness. That was not said but shown. Sylvia Earle, being of the world’s best known marine scientists and a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, is of the humblest people I have had the pleasure to meet. The world has so much to learn from her!

 

THERE IS HOPE

Written by Mariana Mata Lara