As an applicant, you will be required to make many considerations and decisions throughout your Horizon Europe proposal preparation journey. One of the leading decisions, and perhaps the most frequently asked request we receive from potential applicants, is in regards to joining a project’s consortium, rather than initiating and leading one. We believe this request derives from a general ambiguity about the potential implications of choosing to either take on a leading or partner role within a consortium. Therefore, this article aims to analyze these two options and provide information that will allow you to make a more educated decision.
At large, there are two options for you to choose from regarding your role within a consortium:
- Joining a consortium as a partner
- Leading (coordinating) a consortium
Let’s examine the two options, their advantages and disadvantages, as we attempt to clarify the more fitting role for you to take.
Option I: Joining a consortium as a partner
Typically, this is the option most applicants go after. Joining an existing consortium (and ultimately being funded) is considered the “holy grail” and there are several reasons for this. Primarily, joining as a partner is considered to be the easy option, as many are intimidated by the challenges and associated workload of leading and coordinating such large-scale projects. Additionally, some applicants claim that their organisation’s profile is simply not competitive enough to lead such large-scale projects. Others believe their lack of coordination experience will hurt their chances of winning these grants, so they prefer to have others, more experienced, take the lead.
Provided the above arguments against leading a consortium, there are several points to keep in mind when considering joining a consortium as a partner (that is not a part of the leading team):
- It is rather rare to find a perfect match in terms of consortium & project. First of all, and perhaps most importantly – this means that if you wait for this “perfect match” to come, your chances of participating in a proposal are lower than when you are initiating and coordinating one. Second, in many cases – the consortium seeking a partner to join will already have very strict and specific requirements for potential partners and the expected collaboration. Meeting such expectations may require the potential partner to adapt and change its original business and/or research agenda accordingly. If you are up to take on such potential adaptations and existing expectations while remaining loyal to your research & business agenda – that’s great and you should pursue such an opportunity. However, keep in mind that sometimes such changes may be too extreme, eventually rendering this potential partnership less- or even unattractive for you.
- Many times, joining an existing consortium may mean that you will have limited influence on the project’s research agenda. Granted, the EC does not enforce any management or decision making structure on the agenda of the consortia, and it is all up to the consortia members to decide. Still, the ones in the lead (the project’s initiators and/or the project’s coordinator) tend to have a ‘traditional power’ and more influence on the decision making processes within a given consortium.
- Finally, and in line with the above, joining as a partner may also affect the budget specifically allocated to you and your needs. Typically (although not officially dictated by the EC) the leading entities (the project’s initiator/coordinator) decide on the budget distribution, which derives from the work plan. In most cases they do that in general terms, meaning they roughly decide on how much money each partner will receive from the grant, while letting the partners do the fine-tuning of their dedicated budget, according to their specific tasks. Therefore, here as well, when ‘just’ joining an existing consortium, the ability to influence can be limited, although not officially limited by the EC.
The above showcases the various limitations to consider regarding a partnership role in an already established consortium. Now, let’s give the second option some attention.
Option II: Leading (coordinating) a consortium
Generally speaking, and quite unfortunately, this option suffers from a bad reputation. The common belief is that coordinating a Horizon Europe consortium is a tedious and complex task, which only a few are qualified to pursue. Moreover, there is a common misconception that only organizations with highly competitive profiles stand the chance of winning such grants, due to their size, experience and potentially even political connections.
However, all of the above reasons are effectively quite deceiving. History and experience show a long list of coordinators coming from all sorts of organizations regardless of their size, experience or background.
Leading and/or coordinating a project under Horizon Europe has many advantages, and we do encourage applicants from all sectors to opt for this role at least once. This is because the project’s leader (initiator and/or coordinator) benefits from the following advantages (note that the EC does not instruct any of the following items, so these are all “unofficial”, yet common, advantages).
A consortium’s leader:
- Has a crucial position in the process of crafting and defining the overall project’s concept and its research agenda from the start.
- Chooses and recruits the rest of the consortium’s partners, which also allows for additional control over the project’s definition and execution.
- In regards to the budget planning of the project – the coordinator’s position effectively enables increased influencing power over the partners. (*Note that in line with additional items mentioned in this article, this is the common practice and it is not an official instruction by the EC.)
- Receives better exposure of their work before, during and after the project’s execution. In many cases, this opens new doors and leads to additional opportunities for future projects, more than in the case of ‘regular’ partners.
- Finally – there is also a hidden advantage for applicants pursuing this option. In many cases, during the process of preparing a project proposal and seeking partners, such initiators/coordinators are invited to join other project proposals, due to their enhanced visibility stemming from the fact that they are leading a project proposal. This is done usually to eliminate potential competition between project proposals targeting the same topic/call for proposals. That way, you may end up getting what you originally wanted, in the form of Option I above, but from a much stronger position at hand.
**Note that the project’s initiator is not necessarily the project’s coordinator. This is something to decide on during the project proposal preparation. Still, in this article, we refer to these two functions as one.
It is important to take into account that leading and/or coordinating a Horizon Europe project does require a large investment of time and resources throughout the entire research proposal development and execution processes. Taking on these roles requires a lot of effort. That being said, the advantages above make a good case for considering this role. As a single researcher, this may seem intimidating. But, sharing the load, especially the administrative parts, with dedicated and experienced personnel in your organization may make the difference and allow you to perform successfully.
What do we recommend?
It cannot be denied – there are both pros and cons for choosing to be ‘just’ a consortium partner or to take the lead as the project’s coordinator. Having over 2 decades worth of experience working with collaborative projects (from Horizon 2020 and previous programs and now in Horizon Europe), we would like to recommend the following:
- Fully assess whether you can invest the time and resources that are necessary for leading or coordinating a project (Option II), considering all options for support from your organization. If the answer to that question is No, go with Option I. However, if it is any of the other reasons that discourage you from pursuing the option of leading, initiating and/or coordinating a project, we’d recommend consulting and reassessing the situation. Check out below how we can help you with that.
- If you go with Option I, you will have to invest time and efforts in publishing and finding a good project/consortium to join, so be sure to plan and execute accordingly.
How can we help
If you are considering taking on the role of leading or coordinating a consortium – we can assist you in making sure you present a highly competitive proposal that will increase your chances of funding. Then, if successfully funded, we can help you with the daily management of the project as Professional Coordinators. We discuss the various options of coordinating a consortium in our dedicated “consortium dilemma” article – which we recommend you to read. Then, we invite you to refer to our various pre-and post-award Horizon Europe services that can assist you through every stage of the process.
In the case that you feel you should join a consortium as a partner – we’d like to invite you to join Enspire Science’s partner search database. In the event of a relevant match for a potential consortium, we may reach out and invite you to join.