Understanding requirements

Preparing a European research and innovation project is a process that requires careful planning, from identifying relevant calls to finding partners, drafting the proposal and submitting it on time. It is also important to understand financial and administrative issues that will have to be handled during the project. This section will briefly introduce you to these various steps. Aspects such as intermediary reporting, communication and dissemination activities or audits also need to be foreseen. 

A word on strategy

Participation in an EU research and innovation project is a major undertaking for an organisation. For successful participants, the project participation is generally part of the organisation’s overall strategy, with management firmly endorsing the approach and overseeing the process. A global assessment of the organisation’s capabilities and ambition is worth the while before investing time and resources into the preparation of proposals, or before reaching out to potential partners. 

Work Programmes, calls, and topics

Horizon 2020 is implemented through calls for project proposals. This procedure ensures transparency and non-discriminiation in the allocation of European funds. 

Each thematic Horizon 2020 area is managed through a specific Work Programme. Work Pro­grammes (WPs) are prepared by the European Commission. These documents implement political objectives voted by the EU Parliament and the Council.

Under Horizon 2020, Work Programmes are adopted for two-year periods and specify the calls for proposals that will be published during this time. Although details such as budget, deadlines or even specific topics can still be modified for the second year covered, the two-year programmes provide better visibility of forthcoming funding opportunities and help researchers and businesses plan activities more in advance than under previous framework programmes.

For 2016-2017, the Horizon 2020 Work Programmes are made up of 19 documents. These include one general introductory, one general annex and thematic programmes that present various funding opportunities and calls for proposals. 

A call for proposals is often an umbrella for several sub-calls or “topics” as in the following example:

Participants have to select and respond to the specifications of a particular topic.

The definition and actual drafting of calls for proposals and topics is a long iterative process. The European Commission might take into account expert and stakeholder advice and input from delegates from each Member State and Associated Country. The final call text is the end product of this negotiation and careful drafting and re-drafting process.

Challenge, scope, and impact

It is important to know what the funder’s expectations of projects to be financed are in order to address them convincingly in your project proposal. In order to define these expectations, each call topic provides information according to the same structure: “specific challenge”, “scope” and “expected impact”.

  • Specific challenge: this text sets the scene, describes the problem and context to be addressed and explains why European action is needed in the field concerned.
  • Scope: This section outlines what actions are expected in order to solve the challenge. Projects should neither deliver too much nor too little. The text might also mention explicitly that certain actions are “out of scope”. In addition, this section provides an indication of the ideal project budget. However, this project budget serves as a guideline only, and the text itself systematically states that the submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts are not ruled out.
  • Expected impact: In a certain way, “impact” is the motto of Horizon 2020: funded projects should result in concrete, meaningful and Europe-wide benefits to many stakeholders, thereby solving pressing issues faced by many. Knowing what the outcome, or impact, of your project is expected to be can help you focus your project on what is relevant to the policymaker. 

It is important to follow the call specifications as closely as possible – make sure that you have understood all terms used in the text and have looked up any reference mentioned. Typically, this is where the National Contact Point can guide you if you have doubts.

Type of action

Call topics also specify what type (or types) of actions are applicable for projects to be funded. Horizon 2020 covers the whole innovation value-chain, from fundamental research to market replication.

Various funding instruments or “types of action” exist in order to meet the different needs of such projects. The applicable type of action is pre-defined for each call topic.

The most common types of action are “Research and Innovation Action”, “Innovation Action” and “Coordination and Support Action”.

Horizon 2020 also adds some new schemes, such as:

  • The SME Instrument targets innovative SMEs that would like to grow their business, especially internationally.
  • Fast Track to Innovation is a scheme that was tested as a pilot in 2015 and 2016. It supports innovative projects from the demonstration stage through to market uptake. This instrument provides important funding (up to €3 million) to small consortia of up to five participants. Its future within the 2018-2020 Horizon 2020 Work Programme is currently being discussed. 

A description of all types of action can be found in the General Annex D.