Preparatory actions, mistakes to avoid, and advice for completing proposals for Horizon Europe collaborative projects
Preparing a Horizon Europe application may seem daunting, especially if it is the first time you or any of the team members are applying. There are numerous pages and a plethora of information available on Horizon-specific websites, including those created by the European Commission – but this overabundance of information can sometimes lead to more confusion and apprehension rather than providing encouragement.
Below is a high-level overview of the most important steps that need to be taken to begin creating a Horizon Europe proposal, from the five stages of creating an application to common problems faced by applicants, as well as insights from experts on what specific areas of the application are straightforward – and which need more attention to fully understand and get right.
Stages of preparing a Horizon Europe grant application
1. Successfully match your project to a chosen topic
First things first, you need to ensure that your idea falls under a suitable topic area. It is important to take time to make sure your project fits well within the proposal call text, otherwise it will not be considered. It is also imperative that specific requirements are fulfilled. Once you are certain that your project fits the necessary parameters, you can move on to conceptualizing the proposal.
2. Conceptualize your project
This might sound simple, but it is actually quite challenging to create an application that fits directly in line with the call text. You may know what your project wants to achieve and how you plan to get it there, but without articulating this specifically within the confines of the proposal – and matching to what the call text explicitly states – your changes of being successful will be greatly reduced. As Horizon Europe projects are collaborative, shifting from what you want to do alone to what you should do according to the program with a set of partners is a typical issue that is can be difficult to address (more on this is outlined in the fourth stage of the application process).
3. Declare your project’s novelty
Novelty is not a straightforward declaration for these types of grants – it is often elusive and not easy to define. Regardless, this needs to be demonstrated clearly and sufficiently to be considered for funding under Horizon Europe parameters. The most innovative aspects of the proposed work should be highlighted clearly in the beginning of the proposal and revisited throughout.
4. Develop a Consortium
As mentioned above, Horizon Europe is collaborative and requires top-down, consortium-based projects. This means that a large portion of both your pre-award proposal preparation time and post-award project implementation will center around the consortium of partners you will choose for the project.
Constructing a highly competitive consortium might be a challenge. We recommend reaching out to us at Linq Consulting if you would like professional help creating and managing a successful consortium for both the application and implementation phases.
5. Draft the grant application
Having conceptualized the idea behind your project, declared the novelty, and constructed your consortium of partners, then you can begin to actually draft the grant application. This is the main task during the pre-award phase of any Horizon Europe grant application, and it consists of the following core sections:
Excellence – present what your project is about and convince the reviewers that it should be funded, focusing on the project’s objectives, ambitions, and methodologies that will be applied.
Impact – cover, in detail, how your proposed project will impact the state of the art, the state of science, targeted groups, and society as a whole; this is crucial, yet elusive, to achieve, and should not be taken lightly.
Implementation - present how your project is going to meet its objectives; should include a detailed work plan and description of the expertise contained in the consortium.
Budget – should be included directly in the grant application online forms, though an explanation of the use of resources and fit with the work plan should be given in the Implementation part.
Common mistakes to avoid when preparing a Horizon Europe proposal
A few of the most common mistakes that we have seen consortia making are listed here. These can usually be mitigated by starting on time and good management of the process and consortium throughout the application preparation process.
· Not thoroughly reading the guidelines or fully understanding them
· Lack of preparation before drafting the application
· Lacking clear objectives in the proposal
· Problems with the team
· Problems with the budget
· Drafting a proposal that is difficult to read
Thoughts from experts
Horizon Europe recently introduced several changes and novelties to the application process; a significant number of Horizon Europe calls closed in Q2 and Q3 of 2021, allowing the Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities the opportunity to gather feedback from 110 Researchers and Research Support staff of member universities on their first experiences using the revised application process and forms. Survey responses were collected over a period of three weeks in late 2021 from Researchers and Research Officers who had applied as coordinators to one of the six Cluster work programmes or to one of the three European Innovation Council (EIC) programmes.
Overall, respondents to this survey were broadly positive about the application process; however, seemingly minor issues with application form design were viewed as hindering the ability to properly describe the relevance and novelty of proposed research projects. Researchers and Research Officers found the Horizon Europe application forms somewhat rigid, with a significant amount of repetition, especially for projects with larger consortiums.
Below are some other aspects of what to expect when preparing a Horizon Europe grant proposal in 2023 and beyond.
Preparing a successful grant proposal
Feedback on the Horizon Europe application experience from Researchers
Coordinators of Horizon Europe Cluster and EIC applications were asked questions on the ease of use and ease of completion for various aspects of applications, including changes to page limits and how well the application form allowed them to express their project ideas. In general, most applicants were broadly satisfied with these, and responses to the open questions provided further positive feedback on the application submission service. However, some respondents found the project submission system unstable and prone to crashing, and some described the online submission service as difficult to navigate.
Respondents found completion of the interdisciplinary aspect and gender dimension the most straightforward aspect of the application process, while the Impact canvas (section 2.3) was overwhelmingly described as the most difficult, with nearly one-third of respondents describing it as difficult or very difficult to complete.
“The funding and tender portal MUST be more stable – it is annoying to enter info and then next time I log on it is gone.” – quote from one surveyed Researcher
Some respondents gave further detail on dealing with the Impact section, saying it was difficult to understand the terminology, and to provide the level of detail required. Administrative forms were also deemed to be insufficiently clear about what information was needed, and completion of the Annex forms for clinical studies were questioned regarding their design and suitability for all types of research.
Proposal development and delivery
Feedback on the Horizon European application process from Research Officers
Participating Research Officers provided detailed feedback on various aspects of the Horizon Europe application process. Satisfaction rates across the various elements surveyed were quite high, with the Model Grant Agreement being regarded as the most difficult element to complete by this group.
Overall, attitudes towards the Horizon Europe application process were broadly positive, similar to the feedback from the Researchers. Nonetheless, clear recommendations for improvement of the Horizon Europe application process were detailed by respondents. These focused mainly on providing greater clarity in application sections, improving stability and useability of the online platform, and making better use of the application form page allowance.
Hiring a funding consultant or EU grant consultant
Linq Consulting specializes in all areas of creating and managing successful proposals and projects, with dedicated project planning specialists that have experience with multi-million Euro collaborative funding applications. Our team of expert researchers, writers, and project managers can help with all aspects of not only writing a work plan, but also carrying it through and implementing it for Horizon Europe proposals or project management.
The dedicated experts at Linq Consulting are available to assist with Horizon Europe proposals at every stage of the writing and application process. With our expertise in grants management, we can help you secure funding from Horizon Europe, as well as any other grant opportunities that may be available.
For more information on how we can help, get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.