Every detail counts in Horizon 2020 proposals
Competition is fierce, if you are to succeed with your Horizon 2020 proposal. The standard is high, and tiny flaws may mean that your proposal is eliminated. So says associate professor Marianne Zandersen who has been an evaluator in the second phase of eight Horizon 2020 proposals
Competition is fierce, if you are to succeed with your Horizon 2020 proposal. The standard is high, and tiny flaws may mean that your proposal is eliminated. So says associate professor Marianne Zandersen who has been an evaluator in the second phase of eight Horizon 2020 proposals submitted to the Societal Challenge 5 Climate action, environment, resource efficiency and raw materials. The eight proposals were of the ‘Research and Innovation Actions (RIA)’ type.
'If just one criterion has a 'weaknesses', you’re out. And, depending on the call, some areas may be given particular weight. For example, the section 'impact' receives a weight of 1.5. This means that even if you have been really good at the science part, it means nothing unless your section on impact is not really strong too. You must be excellent in all areas, so don’t try to cut corners", says Marianne Zandersen.
She thinks that the quality of the proposals is generally very good, and it is clear that it is an immense job to raise the proposal to a high level. Therefore, she stresses, you need to spend the extra time that allows you to dot the i’s and cross the t’s.
Examples of problems
Marianne Zandersen has read proposals in which the applicant did not comply with the formal requirements. In such cases, you're out of the picture even if your idea is excellent. Take for instance the number of pages: anything that exceeds the allowed maximum number of pages, will not be read. Or if descriptions of case studies that should have been part of the proposal have been placed in an annex - well, then the proposal lacks requested information and will be rejected.
She has also come across figures that are unreadable because they are too small or in a too poor solution; and sometimes the applicants have forgotten to delete their own notes!
Give the evaluator a helping hand: 'It is important that the proposal is strictly logical and that the language is clear and correct without esoteric terms. It should be visually appealing, and obviously it has to match the requirements of the call as precisely as possible. The reviewers do not 'read between the lines'. It is also important that information appears where it belongs - otherwise the reviewer becomes annoyed," explains Marianne Zandersen.
What, how and why - and what impact will it have?
It seems obvious that you should read the call very carefully and make sure that you respond to all 'must-be-answered’ questions. However, that is not always the case. "You should take note of whether it says 'must', 'shall' or ‘should'. The problem is that many calls are very broadly formulated and address complex issues. You are seldom allowed to immerse yourself in your own nerdy field', says Marianne Zandersen. According to her, the best proposals clearly and specifically describe what the researchers want to do, how they will do it, why it should be done and what impact it will have. And the proposal should be specific. 'I have evaluated proposals that were too generic, and as an evaluator you begin to worry that the researchers are just building castles in the air'.
There are many things that must be answered in the 70 pages in the 2nd stage proposal, and everything must be quite carefully considered – from methodology to business plan. Furthermore, it is also a good idea to consider the innovative aspect of your project and to link to projects which have already received funding. In this way, you can show the evaluators that you know exactly what is going on in your field - and the Commission likes 'clustering'. It increases the value, because it shows:
· You know what is going on in your field
· You can build on each other's activities/insights
· The Commission gets added value from the investment.
Become an Evaluator
Marianne Zandersen urges other researchers to become evaluators. She finds it very inspiring and instructive to read several proposals within the same theme. The evaluation team is interdisciplinary, and that provides for many interesting discussions, where there is great respect for each other's professional expertise and arguments, she finds. At the meeting, the evaluators must always reach consensus. However, it is also very demanding work. 0.7 day for a 70-page proposal + annexes; that doesn’t hold water.', Marianne says. I think it would be great if the university could make it more attractive for the researchers to sign up as evaluators. The amount of time spent is underestimated, and it may for instance clash with your work. But it is a highly relevant experience, and it would be great if you could be exempted from other tasks. I think it would raise not only our awareness of Horizon 2020 but also the quality of the proposals submitted by AU," she says.
H2020 Proposal Evaluation Structure - in brief
The evaluations of both "pre-proposals" and "full-proposals" take place in two stages. First, the experts evaluate the proposals individually. Then follows a facilitated group discussion during which the proposals receive their final scoring. On evaluation of proposals during phase 1, the evaluators meet via Skype, but for phase 2 evaluations, they meet for consensus meetings in Brussels.
If you score sufficiently high in phase 1, you proceed to phase 2.
For phase 1 (10 pages) there are two overall evaluation criteria:
For phase 2 (70 pages) there is an additional criterion:
– Quality and efficiency of the implementation
- Read more about the evaluation criteria in Marianne Zandersen’s detailed powerpoint presentation.
- Find out how to get started on the application process of the various Horizon 2020 calls here.
- Contact one of the Research Support Office staff, if you wish to sign up as an evaluator and need advice.