The EC requires that in every Horizon 2020 collaborative project, one of the consortium partners will be assigned as the official project coordinator. According to the official EC grant agreement, the project coordinator is defined as a regular beneficiary to the project that holds extra administration and coordination roles. The coordinator serves as a liaison between the consortium members and the EC, responsible for the project reporting, the overall monitoring of the project, transferring the beneficiaries’ financial shares and more.
What is the coordination dilemma in Horizon 2020?
Being a Horizon 2020 project coordinator is associated on one hand with scientific excellence, prestige, leadership, personal and institutional visibility, and on the other hand with the privilege of initiating the project, forming its concept, leading the partner selection and the proposal writing process. All these attributes make this role desirable to many.
However, the accompanied administrative, non-scientific responsibilities of the project coordinator could be perceived as an intimidating or unwanted burden. The dilemma is, therefore – Is the administrative burden worth the benefits of serving as a coordinator?
In this context, we often hear statements such as “I want to lead the project, but I am afraid that the responsibility associated with this role is too big, and I am not capable of carrying out this role” or “I want to focus on research and don’t want to be distracted by the administrative burden”.
Simply put – most researchers that want to act as the scientific leaders of the project, at the same time are reluctant to have the additional official administrative and financial roles of the project coordinator.
How could this matter be settled? Could the burden be minimized? How can we make more researchers agree on taking the coordination role? How can we make it less intimidating?
Means to settle the dilemma
To answer these questions we need to carefully examine the official definition of a project coordinator role in detail and analyse how evaluators perceive the management structure.
Officially speaking, on top of its roles as a regular beneficiary, the requirements set by the EC for the coordinator, refer only to the Administrative and Financial management roles (Article 41.2(b) of the Grant Agreement). There are no contractual requirements regarding the Scientific leadership of the project coordinator.
However, usually the coordinator is perceived as the Scientific leader as well as the official Administrative and Financial manager.
This gap between the official definition and common perception allows us to introduce solutions that can encourage talented researchers to act as project coordinators, while focusing on the scientific leadership.
The following solutions are based on the principle of precise, well-designed separation between the administrative and financial management roles on one hand, and the scientific leadership on the other hand, while keeping the overall project structure intact and reinforced.
Solution #1 – Be the official coordinator and scientific leader, while appointing a managing partner
The project coordinator is entitled to designate certain tasks related to administrative and financial management to another beneficiary that has the capacity and professional capability to execute them (article 41.3 of the GA), while other tasks must be performed by the project coordinator (article 41.2(b) of the GA). With that in mind a different distribution of the administrative and financial tasks between the beneficiaries can be envisaged.
Advantages: You get to be the official project coordinator and scientific leader, but with much less administrative burden.
Disadvantages: You still need to do some of the administrative work that cannot be delegated.
Solution #2 – Assign a professional coordinator, while keeping the scientific leadership role
This solution is more creative, efficient and proven to make sense to many evaluators if done correctly.
It is possible to declare of any individual involved in the project as the scientific leader. The scientific leader of the project should be identified by name and position. Under this solution, this individual will come from any beneficiary other than the project coordinator. The solution here is to create a project management structure with a clear separation between the scientific leadership and the admin and financial roles, to be performed by the professional coordinator.
Experience shows that the evaluators are looking for robust management structures, in which each of the management roles is executed by people with the relevant expertise.
Advantages: Being the Scientific leader of the project, perse. The project coordination burden is no longer in your court.
Disadvantages: Not being the official coordinator which could result in lower visibility.
Solution #3 (relevant mostly to academia) – Set up an internal office dedicated to administrative and financial aspects.
Essentially, the idea is a culmination of solution 1 and solution 2 together. It calls for a centralized service that can handle the administrative and financial aspects of such collaborative projects, and by that to free up the scientific leader to focus on the research of the project. Typically, this solution becomes more relevant in institutions that have multiple collaborative projects to coordinate concurrently.
Advantages: Similar to the above – you will be the Scientific leader of the project, perse. The project coordination burden is no longer in your court.
Disadvantages: You will need your organization’s commitment to successfully carry out this solution in its entirety.
Above all, a convincing presentation of an efficient management structure prevails on any previous perception regarding the role of the project coordinator as the scientific leader of the project.