According to formal European Commission (EC) guidelines, a Horizon Europe project proposal must appoint a consortium beneficiary to serve as the central contact point and represent the consortium towards the EC. This is also known as the ‘Coordinator’ [ HE MGA, article 7(b)]. Correspondingly, the coordinator’s budget includes a designated share for project management activities. But what exactly does it mean to be appointed as a Horizon Europe project coordinator? What are the potential responsibilities and implications of such a role in the project consortium? What are the tips for choosing a project coordinator successfully? Should you become a coordinator yourself? The following article will provide answers to these important questions.
The natural process of Horizon Europe project development includes:
- the initiation and framing of the scientific outline
- formulating a solid consortium
- leading the proposal writing efforts (including the division of work and allocation of tasks, as well as assigning a budget share to each partner)
- consolidating the administrative sections of the proposal such as ethical issues and partners info, and finally
- submitting the complete proposal.
It is common that the initiator of the project proposal is usually, and almost automatically, the project’s coordinator. However, in many cases, it stems from an inertial force of habit that unfortunately may ignore the potential implications that it might have on the project’s implementation. Therefore, it is important to fully grasp the concept of being a project coordinator in Horizon Europe before making decisions about assigning or taking on this role.
The Coordinator’s responsibilities
Once the Horizon Europe project is retained for funding, the coordinator is required to initiate and manage the processes of signing the grant agreement (GA) with the EC. Although not mandatory, the coordinator is expected to also manage the process of drafting and signing the consortium agreement (CA) between the partners. After these are settled, it is time for the coordinator to lead and launch the project execution with the other beneficiaries. During the project’s lifetime, and in addition to the scientific tasks that the coordinator may have as a consortium partner, there is a line of mandatory responsibilities that the coordinator is obligated to perform.
As written in the “Model Grant Agreement” article 7(b), the Coordinator must:
- monitor that the action is implemented properly;
- act as the intermediary for all communications between the consortium and the granting authority, unless the Agreement or granting authority specifies otherwise, and in particular:
- submit the prefinancing guarantees to the granting authority (if any)
- request and review any documents or information required and verify their quality and completeness before passing them on to the granting authority
- submit the deliverables and reports to the granting authority
- inform the granting authority about the payments made to the other beneficiaries
- distribute the payments received from the granting authority to the other beneficiaries without unjustified delay
From our experience, the non-exhaustive list below can offer a more holistic look at the Coordinator’s responsibilities. The Coordinator is expected to…
- Act as the intermediary for all communications between the beneficiaries and the EC
- Monitor and control the project’s work plan and ensure the action is implemented properly
- Arrange consortium meetings and subsequent reporting
- Implement quality procedures for the project
- Gather, monitor and consolidate scientific and technical content for periodical reports
- Prepare, manage and coordinate the project’s financial checks
- Administer project resources including budget-related issues
- Handle financial management including distribution of payments to the beneficiaries
- Facilitate communication within the consortium on administrative matters
- Handle outstanding administrative issues like contract amendments
- Consolidate the project’s deliverables and reports, and maintain quality assurance including submission to the EC
- Oversee the provision of a project management electronic platformAnd more…
More important points to keep in mind for the Horizon Europe project coordinator
In many cases, the formed collaborations within a Horizon Europe project are new. Therefore, the coordinator must act as the communication facilitator of the consortium partners, usually located in different countries (and potentially with additional projects and obligations in mind), in order to form and engage in fruitful collaborative work.
While many coordinators coming from academia choose to focus their attention on implementing their scientific tasks, the ongoing management of administrative and financial issues of the project are at risk of being neglected or minimised. In some cases, this can go as far as affecting the smooth execution of the project. This dimension is also evident in the case of industrial coordinators, often new to Horizon Europe, or with little experience in coordinating Horizon Europe projects.
In order to achieve the planned goals – the attention, cooperation and contribution of all involved partners is essential. This means that the coordinator must be constantly active, and keep an ongoing and open communication channel between all parties while closely monitoring the project’s progress in order to ensure its smooth implementation.
Having said that, it is made clear that appointing a project coordinator requires well thought strategic planning, in order to maximise the project’s resources, both of time and money. The coordinator has many roles, on top of being the executive administrative and financial manager. Researchers or scientists interested in scientific leadership, without having to deal with the administrative aspects of the coordination, can opt for having a professional coordinator on board. Read more on this topic in the “Horizon Europe Coordination dilemma” article.
The distribution of roles between Administration/Finance and Science/Technology leadership should be clarified from the start in the management strategy, and clearly explained in the submitted proposal. However, this division does not mean a ‘clear cut’. It is imperative that the professional coordinator will understand the science on one hand, and have excellent administrative and financial management skills on the other hand while cooperating and supporting the scientific coordinator.
Understanding the scientific process and the challenges, both inherent and unexpected ones, is what makes the difference between ‘good’ project management and ‘excellent’ project management. The professional coordinator should not be confined to the administrative and financial issues only, but rather involved in all aspects and processes of the project to ensure its success. That way, the professional coordinator can provide a complete support system to the scientific leader and the research and innovation activities being performed. Additionally, a professional coordinator allows the scientific leader to focus on the science and research activities, a time consuming and challenging task as it is, while clearing the way from non-scientific obstacles. This process enables the project to be focused and efficient, and thus deliver better results.