Among the core conditions that an EIC Pathfinder Open proposal must fulfil – the high-risk/ high-gain “gatekeepers” are the most prominent yet counterintuitive ones. Simply put, the expectation is that the project’s gain will be so high that it is worth the significant risk (and potential failure) taken to obtain expected results. This counterintuitive approach is typically not common in many EU grants (except in the case of the ERC funding scheme). Therefore, in this article, we summarize the important information one needs to know in order to fully realize the requirement for high-risk high-gain in EIC Pathfinder Open.
The high-risk factor in EIC Pathfinder Open
Without clear guidelines to work by, the high-risk concept in EIC Pathfinder Open projects can be highly challenging, and bring forth significant scientific uncertainty and unpredictability. In order to decipher this challenging counterintuitive high-risk concept – we recommend breaking it down into two key dimensions. The first dimension refers to the type of risk entailed in the project, namely “Operational risk” or “Conceptual risk”. The second dimension addresses the feasibility of the proposed scientific approach.
Type of Risk: Operational vs. Conceptual
Operational and conceptual risks are inherently different, and it is important to successfully understand these core distinctions. To start, an operational risk relates to a risk that can be diminished by acquiring resources (for example time, equipment, personnel, materials, etc.). In other words – operational risks can typically be resolved given the right budget, with little to no uncertainty involved in the process. On the other hand, a conceptual risk focuses on scientific challenges that involve significant uncertainty in novel unknown paths. These scientific challenges may entail high levels of working assumptions (which may be either right or wrong) and as such, they require more than the “simple” acquisition of resources. Such scientific and technological challenges are prone to (scientific) failure. In other words – if you know the answer to the scientific challenge at the core of your research proposal, it probably does not carry the expected conceptual risk, and as such may not be competitive enough in the case of the EIC Pathfinder Open grant.
To effectively determine the level of the conceptual risk carried in a project:
- Assess the level of uncertainty involved.
- Assess the creativity, extent and boldness of the theoretical framework and/or hypothesis that guides the research, as well as the quantity and quality of the expected working assumptions stemming from that.
If the way to accomplish the objectives of a project is clear and requires few to zero assumptions, it may indicate that the conceptual risk is low. On the other hand, when treading an unknown path with far-reaching assumptions – the conceptual risk will typically be high. This is one of the notions that underlie groundbreaking, innovation-oriented funding programs such as the EIC Pathfinder Open. It distinguishes it from other programs that support a more traditional, incremental, and stepwise progress in research, which typically carry lower scientific and conceptual risks.
Feasibility: Risk-mitigating scientific approach
The notion that an EIC Pathfinder Open project must be a high-risk one does not mean that nothing is to be done to increase the probability of achieving successful results. Naturally, risk and feasibility have a contradicting nature. A highly risky project may imply that its feasibility is low, and vice versa – high feasibility is perceived to diminish the risk. However, in EIC Pathfinder Open, high-risk and feasibility do not have to contradict one another. In fact, projects are evaluated based on both high-risk and potential feasibility. This means that proposals should set highly ambitious objectives, and clearly describe the steps to be taken in order to reduce the likeliness of failure, while relying on the leadership, ability and competence of the consortium members, and potentially their preliminary findings. This may seem like a confusing hurdle to overcome, but a unique scientific approach and research methodology (is not only required), can greatly help achieve this!
Such an approach will benefit from having the following characteristics:
- Realistic methodological plan – a detailed, coherent, doable methodological plan, designed and tailored to explore the path towards innovative technology. For example, operational objectives, deliverables and milestones should be reasonable and achievable within the time and budget framework.
- Reliance on preliminary findings – reliance on basic principles and findings that support the novel idea and/or approach of the project. This should be handled carefully since too much former knowledge can call into question the extent to which the suggested project is novel and of high-risk in nature.
- Execution capability – the capacity to execute the plan should be evident in the proposal. This can be done by showing that the consortium encompasses all the needed expertise & skills, the resources are efficiently allocated, and the work plan is coherent and effective.
- Flexibility – while moving forward in an unknown path towards novelty, changes are likely to happen and new information will probably be obtained. Hence, showing the ability to adjust the plan in order to handle potential future barriers and unforeseen challenges or changes is essential.
The high-gain potential in EIC Pathfinder Open
As with all Horizon Europe funding programs, EIC Pathfinder Open seeks to maximize the impact of European research and development. Successful projects are expected to set the foundation for a novel technology that carries a potential for a substantial difference in our lives, for example by creating brand new markets or addressing an urgent global challenge.
In this context, EIC Pathfinder Open aims to fund research projects that have the potential to make a significant impact that stems from a radically new, unanticipated high-risk scientific concept. Hence, alongside the acknowledgement of the high-risk, proposals are to explicitly express the potential gain, referring both to major (and specific) achievements that could be obtained as a direct result of the project, as well as to the achievements that will possibly be earned in the long run. How high should the expected gain of the project be? Proposing a project idea with a “high” enough high-gain in EIC Pathfinder Open is far from being trivial, so let’s look further at this important aspect.
High-gain in EIC Pathfinder Open
In the context of research projects – “gain” can be synonymous with “impact”. Generally, this refers to what would happen if the project successfully achieves its objectives.
The high-gain requirement in EIC Pathfinder Open is expected to comply with all the following criteria:
- Transformative – The EIC Pathfinder Open is expecting technology-oriented research that has the potential to transform science and society at large. As such, the proposed project is expected to provide disruptive technological breakthroughs, taking the specific field considerably forward and setting the stage for a significant social and/or economic change to our lives.
- Novel – The suggested technology is expected to be fundamentally new, offering a new technological paradigm. If, for example, the project achieves results that are comparable to existing alternative efforts in the field (or in other fields for this matter), the gain would not be considered high enough.
- Carry future potential – The project is expected to carry both technological and scientific potential:
- Technological potential – Projects are not required to get to the finish line with a finalized technology. However, their outputs should provide the scientific and technological basis for future technology, paving the way to its development and realization. This means that it may be enough to reach the stage of a working prototype or proof of concept in the scope of the project.
- Scientific potential– Projects are expected to open new areas of research within the scientific field to which the new technological paradigm is relevant, and possibly to other fields as well. In other words, introducing something which is new only to the project’s members but not for their scientific community is not good enough.
- Ambitious – The project is expected to propose an ambitious science-towards-technology breakthrough, presenting novel concepts and approaches leading to a highly ambitious gain that goes significantly beyond the current knowledge.
- Engaging– As the project is expected to lay the scientific foundation for novel technology, it must encompass the potential to engage relevant stakeholders that can transform the results into practice. In that sense, the gain stems from the ability to attract stakeholders that can take the technology to the next stage, towards its realization.
The concept of high-risk/high-gain in EIC Pathfinder Open is highly important. By following the above points and explanations, you may be one step closer to creating a competitive proposal that meets the requirements and expectations of the reviewers. If you need any further assistance, do not hesitate to contact us.