On 20 November, during the ERRIN Projects Development Week, professor Nikolaos Floratos gave an inspiring presentation “How to Write a Successful Proposal”. Despite the presentation being focused on Horizon 2020, suggestions and information given can be useful for each and every project proposal. This article summarises the main points of the presentation.
When considering to embark on a project, applicants must get acquainted with the documents and technicalities of the programme they want to apply for. Tailoring the project idea on programme priorities is a prerequisite of every successful project preparation. Evaluators will look closely at the sustainability of the project, avoiding to finance project ideas which are likely to end in nothing once the money flow from the commission stops. The application must show that project partners are committed to the idea and have the capacity to keep the project going and deliver lasting and meaningful results. The surest way to do this is to make sure that the project idea is in line with the mission and vision of the partners. Only then the project will last. Equally important to ensure sustainability are good dissemination and exploitation strategies.
A project can be approached either from a top-down or from a bottom-up perspective. The way in which applicants decide to approach a project depends on their strengths and on what they want to achieve. If prospective applicants have a great idea that they want to realise as such, they will choose a bottom-up approach, trying to find the perfect call to finance their idea. Unfortunately, it is not that common to have the perfect match between one’s idea and the calls issued by a programme. Therefore, the original idea will have to be tailored on the priorities and requirements of the targeted call. This can make the project idea change drastically compared to the original, and therefore partners will always have to check if the new idea still matches their mission, vision and expertise.
Partners can alternatively choose to focus on their expertise. In that case, they will focus on previously identified problem they have the capacity to deal with. Understanding the difference between these approaches is very important. Competition is very high, and almost EUR 2 000 000 000 are waisted in unsuccessful applications under Horizon 2020 only. In order to avoid such a waste, projects should set SMART objectives. The objectives of a successful project should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable and Realistic, while the project itself should be delivered within a reasonable Time frame. Crucial steps during the preparation phase are also to look around and understand which kind of projects have been previously financed under the targeted programme, trying to learn best practices and seeking the advise of those who have experience of writing and evaluating winning project proposals.
In order to write a successful proposal, partners should first identify the most attractive call topic according to their capacity and the capacity of the client. It is also crucial to understand the process of submission of the application, which can vary according to the programme and the call one applies for. Thirdly, given the high number of rejected proposals and the short time allocated to the evaluation of each proposal, it is of utmost importance to impress the evaluators. Some good everyday habits can help:
- Build to last: each and every project should be conceived as to last after the money flow from the commission ends. Partners must be committed to the objectives of the project.
- Upset the status quo by keeping things simple. Innovation and clarity are very important aspects of successful applications. Evaluators do not have much time to assess applications. The most effective way to impress them is to present the main ideas of the project in a clear way.
- Exchange ideas with the partners
- Don’t delay, delegate: this very important concept should be applied both to the members of the team and the members of the partnership. According to Floratos, a good organisation should include at least four partners with different responsibilities. The proposal writing team should include the following figures:
- someone with expertise in the topic
- someone with experience in the impact part of the project. Applicants should try to emphasise how project results will be applied in specific domains and to specific target groups.
- someone responsible of all administrative tasks
- an external evaluator (National Contact Point or other)
- Leverage good to great. Most projects are good. However, given the number of projects submitted and the relatively low available budget, only great project ideas presented in a very good way win. Floratos stresses that projects should never compromise, nor in the consortium-building phase nor in the writing process. The more compromises we make, the lower the quality of the final project. For this reason, it is crucial to get feedback from people who do not belong in the project team. One other “must do” to leverage good to great is to allow time to the project. The preparation of a project should take no less than three months, and the project should be complete two weeks before the deadline for submission. In this way, partners allow themselves some time to get feedback and improve the quality of the application.
- Recognise mistakes. In the case of unsuccessful applications, it is crucial to recognise mistakes and be ready to put aside feelings and change the project idea dramatically if needed. General observations from the European Commission as explanation of the project’s rejection are not enough to leverage projects from good to great. Unsuccessful applicants should be ready to analyse they project idea thoroughly, and to identify the mistakes they made while conceiving and presenting their project idea. If they are ready to do so, and they still believe in the importance of their idea, they will go for the next call with a better proposal.
Let us stress again that most project proposals are good. A new article will put forward some more specific suggestions on how to leverage a project proposal from good to great.
To the next time!