The EC requires that in every Horizon Europe 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, and is 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 Europe?
Being a Horizon Europe project coordinator is associated with scientific excellence, prestige, leadership, personal and institutional visibility, as well as 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 can be perceived as an intimidating or unwanted burden. Therefore, the dilemma at hand relates to the question – is the administrative burden worth the benefits of serving as a Horizon Europe project 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, are at the same time reluctant to take on the additional official administrative and financial roles of the project coordinator.
How can this matter be settled? Could the burden be minimized? How can we make the role less intimidating and encourage more researchers to become coordinators?
Means to settle the coordination dilemma
To answer these questions, we need to carefully examine the official definition of a project coordinator’s role and analyze how evaluators perceive the management structure.
Officially speaking, on top of the roles as a regular beneficiary, the requirements set by the EC for the coordinator refer only to the Administrative and Financial management roles (Article 7(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 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 – Take on the role of 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 7 of the GA), while other tasks must be performed by the project coordinator (article 7(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 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 administrative 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 individuals with the most relevant expertise.
Advantages: Being the Scientific leader of the project. 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 official project Coordinator and Scientific leader of the project, perse. However, the project administrative and financial 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.
Taking on the role of official project coordinator of a Horizon Europe project is, by all means, a big decision. Given the above, we hope to have provided some alternatives and points of thought to this opportunity – ones that may encourage you to consider this role for yourself. Should you have any questions, be sure to contact us.