Impact is one of the most important aspects of the evaluation criteria in Horizon Europe. As such, one should refer to the presentation of the impact with a lot of attention and dedication. In this article, which is part one of a series of articles on this important topic, we explain how to approach the Horizon Europe ‘Impact’ section for Horizon Europe collaborative projects. As well, we will offer our initial tips for writing this section in order to increase the proposal’s competitiveness.
We’ll begin by approaching the ‘Impact’ section from a conceptual perspective. We will then continue with explanations about the official European Commission instructions on how to write the ‘Impact’ section, and we will end with some writing tips of our own.
Horizon Europe Impact – the conceptual aspects
Impact = Value
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 anticipated immediate results of their project to be its impact. This is the first common pitfall and usually where the problem begins. The expectations of the impact in a Horizon Europe project proposal are in fact much broader than merely having these results. Let’s break this issue down to its core.
Impact is more than results. Look for the project’s value
While the results of a research project are very important, they do not inherently constitute the impact of a said project. If the information provided in the ‘Impact’ section only pertains to the “results” acquired, not only will it be a very superficial presentation that does not truly explain the impact of the project, it will also fail to align with the expectations of the European Commission as they are communicated in Horizon Europe. Therefore, and in the context of Impact – there are many other elements that should be considered in addition to the results, while some are expected to extend beyond the project’s scope and lifetime. Therefore, the right formula that should eventually be manifested in the text when addressing the Horizon Europe 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 gap which extends past the project’s results?
In Horizon Europe, as opposed to previous framework programmes, the features and requirements introduced into the Impact section enable us to answer these questions. However, before going into details that will allow us to write a proper Horizon Europe ‘Impact’ section, we offer this highly important hint to guide you throughout the process:
Replace the word “Impact” with the word “Value”. Then, ask the following questions when drafting the ‘Impact’ section: “What is the value of the project?” How important and significant are the benefits expected from your project? How widespread are they?
Horizon Europe seeks out novel and groundbreaking research projects that truly tackle global 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 after we reach our target and have results?
- What will happen once the project is through?
- What may be the next steps which extend beyond the project’s scope?
- What will be the project’s ‘heritage’?
Refer to anything which may be relevant to the specific content of the project in that regard.
The impact-driven approach in Horizon Europe
In this respect, and in order to maximize the impact of Horizon Europe projects, an impact-driven approach for securing and communicating impact has been introduced. These are the three Key Impact Pathways broken down into nine key storylines. Introducing such an impact-driven approach, the European Commission’s key goal is to better convey the impact of EU funding for Research & Innovation (R&I) to citizens, legislators and budget authorities. This approach aligns with the ambition to further advance the diversity of impact of EU research and innovation funding.
As stated, there are three Key Impact Pathways (KIPs), with three storylines each, namely:
- Scientific Impact: (1) Creating high-quality new knowledge; (2) Strengthening human capital in research and innovation; (3) Fostering diffusion of knowledge and Open source.
- Societal Impact: (4) Addressing EU policy priorities and global challenges through research and innovation; (5) Delivering benefits and impact through research and innovation missions; (6) Strengthening the uptake of research and innovation in society; and
- Economic / Technological Impact: (7) Generating innovation-based growth; (8) Creating more and better jobs; and (9) Leveraging investments in research and innovation.
Addressing Impact dimensions
Having worked with thousands of applicants on their proposals throughout various framework programmes, we are able to identify a typical mistake which is addressing too few impact 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. Proposals should try and cover as many as possible of the above-mentioned Key Impact Pathways along with their different storylines. Having said that, the opposite scenario of attempting to “cover all” the above-mentioned pathways but with very weak or vague links to the presented project should be avoided.
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The impact of Horizon Europe projects
The ‘Impact’ section in Horizon Europe proposals
The impact section in the Horizon Europe proposals consists of 3 sub-sections:
2.1 Project’s pathways towards impact
2.2 Measures to maximise impact
2.3 Summary canvas
2.1 Project’s pathways towards impact
This may be the most important sub-section describing the impact of the project. We strongly recommend to carefully study what is expected under this subsection, understand the evaluation criteria in that regard, and to attend to all the requirements.
The project’s pathways towards impact consist of the following 3 elements:
- Results – These would be the immediate, short-term outputs of the project. Examples include: know-how, innovative solutions, algorithms, proof of feasibility, new business models, policy recommendations, guidelines, prototypes, demonstrators, databases and datasets, trained researchers, new infrastructures, networks, etc. The project’s results must correspond to its objectives as well as to the scope defined in the topic description.
- Outcomes – These are expected effects, over the medium-term, of projects supported under a given topic. The results of a project should contribute to these outcomes fostered, in particular, by the dissemination, communication and exploitation measures. The project’s outcomes should directly correspond to the expected outcomes set in the topic description.
- Impacts – These are wider, long-term effects on society (environment included), the economy and science, enabled by the outcomes of R&I investments. They generally occur sometime after the end of the project. Impacts should refer to the specific contribution of the project to the Work Programme’s expected impacts described in the Destination under which the chosen topic is situated.
Under section 2.1, the proposal text should explain how all 3 elements will stem from the project’s concept and work plan. The proposal should also demonstrate how each of these elements will contribute to the relevant expected impact(s), as illustrated in the following diagram:
As the applicant, it is your goal to convince the reviewers reading the project proposal that your project can essentially meet all these expectations during its execution, on all 3 levels:
- The project’s results should correspond to the requirements set in the topic’s scope.
- In turn, these should lead to the medium-term outcomes that should correspond to the expected outcomes set in the topic description.
- And these, in turn, should lead to the long-term impact, which should correspond to the expected impacts set in the relevant Destination.
2.2 Measures to maximise impact
Since the impact of the project is of the utmost importance, a mandatory requirement that any Horizon Europe project must meet is having a solid plan that will enable it to maximize its impact. Such a plan should include three measures to realize the full impact potential: dissemination, communication and exploitation. It must be provided as a deliverable within 6 months from the signature date, and be periodically updated in alignment with the project’s progress.
2.3 Summary canvas
The goal of sub-section 2.3 is to hand over an effective summary of the messages included in the ‘Impact’ section to the reviewers. This is a classic way of feeding the reviewer, by pinpointing the most important messages in a highly efficient manner. The Horizon Europe proposal template dictates a table structure for this section, and it is our recommendation to fully conform to this structure, without any deviations.
Writing tips for the Horizon Europe Impact section
- Since your project’s pathways towards impact are directly linked to a given topic, Destination and Work Programme, make sure to properly familiarize yourself with their expected outcomes and wider impacts. Once you do that, you need to describe in detail, and in the form of a narrative, how your project’s results will uniquely contribute to these outcomes and impacts. The potential reviewer will check if what you propose is indeed credible, so, in this respect, avoid describing tenuous links to the field of research in general. What the European Commission is looking for is a specific contribution of your specific project to the topic’s expected outcomes and the Destination’s and Work Programme’s wider, expected impacts. When approaching the actual writing of the ‘Impact’ section, consider starting with sub-section 2.3 – Summary canvas. Pinpointing the most important messages you wish to convey in this section can assist you later on to flesh them out into a robust, coherent narrative, as requested in sub-section 2.1 (“project’s pathways towards impact”).
- A recommended way to ensure strong pathways to impact is by involving a variety of stakeholders in the co-creation of your project plan from the beginning of the proposal writing. Such an approach is guaranteed to deliver widespread benefits such as the ones the European Commission is looking for.
- In addition, to score highly on this section you will need to include baselines, benchmarks and assumptions showing where we are now and where we will be at the end of the project and beyond. This can be in terms of, for example, expected revenues from new technologies, size of patient groups that will be affected by a new treatment, number of new jobs that will be created after a successful project, growth in the number of users of emerging technology, and so on. You are also expected to identify possible barriers arising from factors beyond the scope and duration of your project that may determine whether the desired outcomes and impacts are achieved. These may include, for example, other research and innovation work within and beyond Horizon Europe, regulatory environment targeted markets etc. You will then need to provide suggestions for the possible mitigation of these barriers.
- Be sure to remember to include detailed measures to maximize impact through dissemination, exploitation and communication activities. The potential reviewer will check the quality, suitability, and concreteness of the proposed measures for your project during and after the project. As well, identify your target groups for different measures.
It is our hope that, by now, the importance of the Horizon Europe 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.