A consortium is at the heart of any Horizon 2020 project. Consortium partners, once chosen and settled, will undoubtedly impact the success rates of the project itself. Because of this, building a consortium is a very important stage of the Horizon 2020 project development. This is especially true since there are some definite ways to doing it wrong and right.
The basics to building a consortium
Every consortium is comprised of at least 3 partners from 3 different countries. This includes partners coming from member states and/or associated countries. In most cases a larger consortium is expected (although this depends on the exact requirements set in the call text). One of the consortium partners will need to be the Project Coordinator (often unfortunately resulting in a coordination dilemma). In terms of project evaluation, beyond eligibility – the structure and composition of the consortium is very important and should not be taken lightly.
With this in mind, the main challenge is always: how to build a consortium tailored to your project’s needs?
What are the right priorities when building a consortium?
The most common mistake in building a consortium is bringing on board the immediate “friends”: peers, past and present collaborators, etc. We have seen many cases in which the initial core consortium included a set of partners that were already interlinked or related in various ways, even before assessing the real needs of the project. In fact, we can say that the main reason for the inclusion of these partners is prior collaboration and personal connection, rather than a result of an in-depth assessment of the project’s needs.
For many, this is the natural thing to do, and they present all kinds of reasoning for that:
“we are used to working with these people for many years”
“we believe that these individuals will be good partners because we share the same vision”;
“we ‘owe’ them, as they invited us to another grant”; and so on.
However, when constructing a consortium that is going to submit a project proposal to the highly competitive Horizon 2020 program, the priorities should be different:
- For the Pre-Award phase the only thing that matters is how the reviewers perceive the consortium structure: What would be the best project definition, and is the consortium perfectly tailored to execute it? In other words – what would be the composition of partners that best serve the project’s definition and goals? Are there redundancies? Are there tasks that are not well-covered by the expertise of the consortium?
- For the Post-Award – the execution phase – the goal is to have a manageable project structure, with reasonable administrative burden and without having redundant and unnecessary partners. We often see projects that were retained for funding in which partners turned out to be a burden as the project did not really need them.
The typical (and unwanted) scenario when building a consortium
We’ve been involved in the development of hundreds of EU projects to date (since FP4). Based on this accumulated experience, we can report the following recurring scenario trend when building a consortium:
- A researcher or small group of researchers identifies an attractive call for proposals and decides to initiate a project proposal.
- The initiator(s) contact a large list of ‘friends and peers’ prior to an in-depth assessment of the project’s needs and definition. Many of them are enthusiastic about joining the endeavor.
- The project idea begins to crystalize and at some point, the initiator(s) realize that there is a discrepancy between the list of interested partners and the project’s needs. A typical discrepancy is redundancy in expertise. Many friends and peers are by definition redundant and overlapping in expertise.
- Typically, one of the two steps follow:
(a) They try to ‘bend’ and/or ‘force’ the project definition to enable the participation of all the existing members, while this is really not recommended;
(b) They realize that they need to remove some of the partners and this becomes unpleasant….
Our unique project development methodology addresses this process differently. It avoids the unwanted and unpleasant outcomes of the typical scenario. More importantly, it directly targets the above-mentioned priorities and ensures a high level project definition which tightly corresponds to the requirements of the call for proposals and a consortium structure that complements it. In other words – it makes sure you are building a consortium the right way.
Building a Consortium: How to do it right
The key to building a consortium the right way is shifting the discussion focus from partners to functions. Looking carefully at what the EC is asking for in the Horizon 2020 projects shows they want to see a composite of functions that will lead to the expected impact.
Analyzing the Functions of the Project
The very first step to building a consortium successfully is to deeply analyze what would be the best functions to “deliver the goods”. This should be done early in the process of proposal development.
It should be done vis-à-vis the call text, and in line with the overall agenda and scientific concept that you want to promote. In that context, we wish to remind that the full call text should be addressed by the project definition. If you fail to refer to all of the call text requirements, your application will be less competitive than others.
Logic must play a crucial role. The work flow between the functions is very important. We must ensure that it is clear to the reviewers. We must make sure that there are no redundancies, overlaps or unexplained gaps in functionality. Gantt chart is not enough for that matter. We’d always recommend also having a Pert chart, accompanied by a detailed written explanation about the project’s workflow. Entry points, end points, milestones, inner dependencies, etc. – all these should be well addressed. It will help you with the reviewers in the pre-award phase. Later on, once the project is retained for funding, it will definitely help you in the execution phase as well
Transforming functions to partners
After we are done with designing the project and its functions, we can transform the discussion back to “partners” and start searching and recruiting them. The output of the “functions” planning will be a clear set of requirements for the partner search. You will have a much better view of the kind of partners that you need for the project and their respective roles in the project.
Equipped with this knowledge, you can now search for partners and allocate them. Now,if any of your friends or peers qualify to the functional requirements of the project – invite them to join! Keep in mind though that many of the Horizon 2020 calls for proposals expect new types of collaborations.
Following the above process properly can ensure you formulate a successful consortium for your Horizon 2020 project. Of course this process may involve stepping out of your comfort zone in terms of partnering. But, the ultimate result will be a robust consortium structure that will serve both the highly competitive pre-award phase and the post-award phase.