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Associate Professor Rikke Toft Nørgård from DPU was invited to join a newly started consortium, and she was asked whether she would take on the role of coordinator for a Horizon Europe Research and Innovation Action (RIA) under cluster 2: "Culture, creativity and inclusive society". She had her doubts – was she far enough ahead in her career? Was she the right person? Did she have time?

And above all, what about her lack of experience with project management? Many from AU advised against it at first, and suggested that she instead started with an FKK application, for example. But after further encouragement from the consortium, and a few sleepless nights, she decided to take the plunge into the project design and application work and take on the leadership role. And it paid off – approx. DKK 23 million!

Three months to the application deadline
The application process was very intense. When Rikke Toft Nørgård finally accepted the coordinator role, the consortium had three months to write the application and find the last partners. Luckily, some of the partners had extensive experience in writing applications, and Rikke Toft Nørgård had the project idea, which she stuck with all the way.

“There were many different disciplines and competences in the consortium. Some were very savvy about the application specifics, and they could transform what I had written into models, tables and KPIs. On the other hand, I was good at sticking to the idea and the complexity. There were a great many types of knowledge and project approaches at play, with 12 partners from the creative industries, cultural centres, as well as policy and research institutions. This led to tension and much discussion, but with the help of weekly meetings, constant dialogue, and managed integration in the project description, it was actually productive. However, it could also have sent things in every possible direction and everything could have fallen apart had we not gathered it all in one clear narrative," says Rikke Toft Nørgård.


What’s this ’game’ like?
Rikke Toft Nørgård is an associate professor in educational design and technology at DPU, but her original PhD was In game design, and a gaming approach helped in the process. "I started by learning how to understand the ‘game’ and the rules behind an EU coordinator application. I read several successful applications and made sure I had an understanding of the terminology and the genre. I had to understand and speak a new language. It was a whole new world, so I took my research approach, immersed myself in the process, and drew up a document analysis of applications and documents. And one thing became clear: the basic idea had to permeate every task and every work package, and the argument for cohesion between the project idea, method, activities, products and benefits had to be razor-sharp. Therefore, I made a draft of all work packages and worked 24/7 on the application," she says. For Rikke, it was important that the project was altruistic, and idealistically and uncompromisingly, the project had to be much more for the world rather than for the consortium. The project was not 'for the sake of the money', but it was there to identify new paths for culture, game development and the humanities.

Clear leadership
Rikke Toft Nørgård started by setting up an organisation and planning progress at consortium meetings. "I put a lot of effort into preparing the meetings and formulating a common vision with clear tasks for project work – there had to be a common direction. Decisions had to be taken at each meeting, and therefore extensive communication and meeting presentations were crucial, so that everyone knew what had to be prepared and decided. After meetings, I sent out summaries highlighting the decisions, tasks and next steps.  I wanted the process to be efficient and focused, but also human, dialogic, participant-oriented and with clear leadership.”

She set up a small team from the consortium with a lot of application experience, who could translate the project idea into the language of the EU. For example, as Rikke Toft Nørgård says, writing a good impact section can be a challenge. "It was really good to have other people's application experience: especially given that mine was so limited. They dissected what I had written, asked about it in detail and systematised it into elements, giving it transparency and clear EU logic. In this context, my limited experience actually helped me to be a good listener and humble, but on the other hand I was not caught up in a preconception of what an EU project 'should look like', and I therefore insisted on taking charge of the project's humanistic approach, methodology and results.” Rikke Toft Nørgård also highlights the crucial local assistance she received from AU; both from DPU for the application, and from the Research Support Office with regard to decisions, management, budget design and wording the application. “It would never have been possible without them,” she says.

Four tips from Rikke Toft Nørregård about the role of coordinator:
• Don’t be afraid to take on the coordinator role – even if you are an early career researcher and a woman, take a page out of Pippi Longstocking’s book: “I've never done that before, so I'll definitely be good at it!”
• Stick to the project's unifying idea – it must permeate the entire application, and be explicitly highlighted in all work packages as well as the associated tasks and deliverables. Think of the application as a complex engine, where all the individual parts have to work together effortlessly to generate motion.
• Be the coordinator – by preparing meetings, setting clear tasks, creating momentum and ensuring ongoing collaboration and coherence – but remember to be democratic, dialogic, open and take a bottom-up in approach. Then prioritise, integrate and transform the input you receive by embracing the application work and developing the project.
• Seek advice – seek help and collaborate closely with the Research Support Office and others who can advise locally. Get hold of previous successful applications, and be ethnographic and inquisitive about the special language and the particular genre. Make sure that you have consortium partners on board with specialist application knowledge, who can advise you and the project – especially if you do not know the game.

➢ EPIC-WE is an EU project starting on 1 March 2023 and running for three years (2023-2026) which focuses on exploring and developing new models for collaboration, development formats, forms of participation and cultural products through and for modus 3 partnerships which can be spread to cultural hubs in Europe. Aarhus University is the lead partner, and Rikke Toft Nørgård is the project coordinator and PI for the project. A total of 12 partners are members of the EPIC-WE consortium. The project has a total budget of about DKK 23 million.

Read more about the project in an article here.