The Horizon 2020 grant proposal application is divided into three major sections: Excellence, Impact and Implementation. In contrast to the Excellence and the Implementation sections, many applicants find the Impact section harder to write. Despite detailed instructions in the call text and in the proposal template, applicants find its expectations to be unclear. As a consequence – many applicants tend to postpone writing this section and eventually end up with impact sections that are partial, of low quality, and neglect key impact aspects. This is why we have fittingly deemed it “the abandoned child” of these Horizon 2020 grant proposals. In this post, part one of a series of posts on this important subject, we will touch on some of the issues that we often notice in the Horizon 2020 Impact Section. As well, we will offer our initial tips for overall improvement.
Horizon 2020 Impact section and the project reviewers
Since the Impact section requirements are unclear, researchers often end up leaving its curation to the end of the proposal development. This is not an advised approach since curating a solid impact section is of incredible importance. in line with the overall goal of the EC to maximize the impact of the EU research, Horizon 2020 clearly instructs the experts reviewing proposals to give substantial attention to this section when they review the project proposal. Specifically, in Innovation Actions (IA) and in SME Instrument, the score for this section gets an automatic factor of 1.5 over the other sections. This further indicates the importance of crafting a successful Horizon 2020 impact section.
A new approach to the Horizon 2020 Impact Section
Having recognized a list of malpractices associated with the writing of this section, we are here to offer a highly practical approach, which we have broken down into building blocks for your convenience. In this initial post, we’ll touch on some of the main pitfalls that we often notice in the Horizon 2020 Impact Section. Once established, we will offer our initial tips for overall improvement of the Impact section to help in avoiding such typical pitfalls.
Horizon 2020 Impact Section – Impact Vs. results
Clearly – any research should lead to impact. However, the typical impact that many end up including in their proposal is driven by the motivation to carry out the suggested research and development project. As a direct consequence, many consider the project’s results to be the impact of the project. This is where the problem begins. The expectations of the Impact in Horizon 2020 project proposal are in fact much broader than merely having these results. Let’s break this issue down to its core.
Impact is way more than results. Seek for the project’s value.
The first common pitfall elaborates the above confusion of Impact and results. Writing the Horizon 2020 Impact section is associated with the common confusion which essentially is manifested in the impact text by this incorrect equation:
Impact = Project’s Results
While the results of a research project are very important, they do not inherently constitute the impact of said project. If the information provided in the Impact section only pertains to the “results” acquired, it will be a very superficial presentation and will do nothing to truly explain the impact of the project. There are many other elements that we should consider on top of the results, which some may extend beyond the project’s scope and lifetime. Therefore, the right formula that should eventually be manifested in the text when addressing the Impact section is:
Impact > Project’s Results
This being established, the following questions are: How do we move on from here? How can we fill in the missing gap which extends past the project’s results?
Before going into details that will enable to answer these questions, and to write a proper Horizon 2020 Impact section, we offer this highly important hint to guide throughout the process:
Replace the word “Impact” with the word “Value”. Then ask the following question when drafting the Impact section:
“What is the value of the project?”
All about the value of the Horizon 2020 project
As it is many times explained, Horizon 2020 seeks out novel and groundbreaking research projects that truly tackle societal challenges. For this reason, they should have profound value (=impact). Where else can researchers captivate the reviewers with the extraordinary applications of their project? Surely, it must be through the Impact Section! If addressed correctly – this section can be an immense push towards receiving funding for the project. It is the ultimate opportunity to “sell” the project by expressing its value and therefore its tremendous impact. If neglected, it is a huge disservice to the application efforts as a whole.
In order to assess the project’s value, focus on answering questions such as:
- What will happen once the project is through?
- What may be the next steps which extend beyond the project’s scope?
- What will happen after we reach our target and have results?
- What will be the project’s ‘heritage’?
- Refer to anything which may be relevant to the specific content of the project in that regards.
Avoid neglecting the various dimensions of Impact.
The value (=impact) of the project can be expressed in various dimensions that can (and should) be discussed in any Horizon 2020 project. This is where the real impact is being measured.
Having worked with thousands of applicants on their proposals, we are able to articulate the more “traditional” dimensions researchers choose to explain the impact of their project, on top of the required “Key Performance Indicators (KPI)”. These traditional dimensions are divided into the following classifications:
- Scientific/Academic/Research: This avenue generally focuses on the possible publications, conferences, or any other opportunities that can arise as a result of this project to promote the research field.
- Socio-economic: Here, researchers often touch on the new possibilities for job creation, important policy outputs, and overall social benefits of their project.
- Environmental: Such applications mostly refer to policy papers or guidance documents produced as a result of the research project.
- Public engagement: In this selected avenue, researchers describe varying ways to publicly engage through communication strategies, education, media or social media outlets, and user groups.
The above avenues are typical dimensions that can demonstrate the possible impact of a research project. But, one typical mistake we see is addressing too few of these dimensions (generally the ones for which receiving data and finding supporting evidence is quite “easy”). This is the second common pitfall in writing the Impact section. By that, many applicants tend to neglect many other dimensions which are not less important. In this context, it is important to dive deep into all aspects of the project and critically assess and determine any additional dimensions that can be noted.
A third common pitfall is assuming it is enough to only consider the above listed dimensions. To put it quite bluntly – huge amounts of funding is not being invested just in order to produce publications, educational engagements, possible policy outputs, and more. Therefore, our recommendation is: 1. Do begin by aiming higher than that and addressing as many impact dimensions and KPIs as possible in the proposal’s impact section, once this is accomplished move directly to.2. Extend past this list. This can mostly be done by referring to the “business” dimensions, which tend to be outside the “comfort zone” of most academics and researchers in general (for this we have set out a separate and upcoming post).
Avoid telling the same story several times
Having established that impact is more than results, and that impact has many facets that should be addressed, we would like to highlight an additional point of view which constitutes another typical pitfall. This time we’ll zoom out to a wider context than just the Impact section. Addressing this properly will help to enhance the overall project proposal.
In most cases, the motivation to carry out the suggested research and development for the project is already presented in the Excellence section (section 1), and as such, the expected results are already discussed there as well. In this context, the typical presentation flow, which is generally presented in section 1, can be summarized as follows:
Motivation drives the project’s objectives, and once successful the project’s results will constitute the project’s impact.
Leaving aside the overlap of this with the first pitfall mentioned above, if this is indeed the presumed flow, one may ask: what is left to write in the Impact section (section 2)? Shall we tell the same story again? What is the added value in that?
The typical starting point (and unfortunately also the endpoint in many cases) of writing the impact section is the “Expected impact” from the call text. This is where the above-mentioned problem is usually manifested in the form of a comparison text or table. This is usually done by referring directly to each one of the expected impact bullets and offering a detailed, yet repetitive, text about how the project answers to the expected impact. The outcome of this practice is a repetitive story that presents (as a consequence of the latter) a relatively narrow Impact scope. This contradicts the nature of the impact section and the expectations of the reviewers in that context.
Therefore, the fourth, and probably most common, pitfall of writing the Impact section in Horizon 2020 is telling the story again, after it has already been told in the Excellence section (and probably also in the Implementation section).
Understanding the Horizon 2020 proposal template guide can help
Telling the story again in the Impact section is part of a wider problem that was presented in our Horizon 2020 proposal template guide – understanding the inner logic and structure article.
For one, this conjures a very limited understanding of the research project as a whole, and the reviewers will not receive the complete information they are looking for to determine if this project should receive funding. As well, the reviewers’ overall reading experience will be quite repetitive and uninviting.
Therefore, in order to resolve this problem and avoid this typical pitfall, our initial recommendation is first to invest in understanding the inner logic of the Horizon 2020 proposal structure. This will help to tell the Impact story properly and as a stand alone text. The aspiration is a unique and isolated piece of text that gives inspiration and significant added value to the reviewers.
It is our hope that, by now, the importance of the Horizon 2020 impact section is clear. As well, after clearly identifying the main pitfalls and offering our tips for improvement, writing a new and improved impact section is already a feasible task. In our upcoming posts, we’ll dive even deeper into this topic and offer additional highly important tips and insights for your benefit.