Orientating in the jungle of European Union research funding is not an easy task for anyone. Just simply understanding the different funding instruments, let alone how they are set up and how they work, can sometimes require a lot of insight. The new organisation model at Laurea, moving the responsibilities for applying for externally funded projects from the service unit to the other units, has meant that there are many people without extensive experience in applying for EU funding that now need to step up and take a bigger role in writing EU funding proposals. In addition, the new RDI-funding targets set for the coming year is challenging and the leadership are asking for more proposals to be sent in than in previous years. However, this demand is not set without also offering more support to the units than before. The RDI-team has been strengthened with two new Grant Writers, and the team is currently working on new processes to consolidate the support offered to the teachers in proposal writing.
As a one of the new Grant Writers at Laurea, my job is to support proposals to my best abilities, mainly helping with the actual proposal writing. I also provide useful information on funding opportunities on a more general level, helping teachers to find funding instruments that is suitable for their project idea, and I give general knowledge and support to help a person get started with the proposal writing process. In the end of last year, I attended a training in Berlin for proposal writing in H2020 and Horizon Europe calls. It was very valuable and provided me with good general tips for writing a successful H2020 proposal, and I want to share some of them with you in this text.
The first tip and perhaps the most important one, is that regardless of the funding instrument or call you always have to remember to mention the cross –cutting issues included in the H2020 funding . These include Gender Equality, Climate Action & Sustainable Development, Social Sciences and links to Regional Policy. In other words, how will you make sure that the actions and outputs in your proposal are gender diverse, sustainable and beneficial for the European public? Always keep these issues in mind and mention them in your proposal in one way or another.
Secondly, do not just follow the money. The commission wants to hear the backstory. Why are you applying for the funding? Where did this idea come from? Did it start from a previously funded project? They want to see that you are following the research, not the cash, and that your idea is part of something bigger than just this project. You should also briefly mention in your proposal how the partnerships in your consortium were built, how you have worked together on the proposal within the consortium and open up the different work stages that took place whilst writing. The commission wants your proposal to be a joint effort, not the work of a single person. However, keep in mind here that the writing should be cohesive throughout the proposal, and not a copy paste patchwork of partner’s texts.
Thirdly, find out which EU-policy your project idea responds to and show it clearly in your proposal. The consultant even went as far as recommending that your proposal should start with the sentence: “Our proposal is in line with the following EU-policy…” However you wish to highlight this, it is a key part of the text.
The fourth tip concerns the Impact. Remember that beyond the direct impact goals in the call, i.e. the expected impacts; you also need to identify the indirect impact goals. These can be enhancing innovation capacity, creating new market opportunities, increasing competitiveness and growth of companies or the environmental or social issues linked to the research. In addition, think about outputs that the project could hit that are not mentioned in the call text. Maybe you could find impact in sectors other than your own. The more out of the box the better.
Marketing and Communication is the fifth aspect I want to highlight. It tends to get even more attention from the Project Officer than the actual science, perhaps because it is more tangible. Develop a clear marketing and communication strategy with milestones and goals. Define clear objectives, target groups, and proportionate it to the scale of the research. Address the scientific excellence, competitiveness and social challenges (e.g. impact on everyday life). It can also be valuable to look at the visual design of your proposal, checking that it is cohesive and that the whole proposal looks like you made a real effort.
At some point of the training, the consultant asked us if we speak Brussels English. Most of us shook our heads and I thought he was talking about difficult EU-lingo with lots of unrecognisable acronyms. He was actually talking about easily understandable English, written so that even a reviewer with quite poor English skills can understand the proposal. This is my sixth and final tip for you: remember to write your proposal in Brussels English, keeping the text and wording simple and the science understandable.
These mentioned tips are just a handful of general things to keep in mind when writing a successful H2020-proposal. Luckily, the RDI-team will support you throughout all stages of applying for external funding. Even if you feel comfortable writing our own proposal and you are not new in the game, the support given by the RDI-team can prove to be very valuable. As a final measure before sending in a proposal, the RDI-team provides help with the quality assurance, which means, given enough time before the deadline, reading your proposal and checking that all the above-mentioned things are included and thought of, amongst many other things. This internal review, having another set of eyes reading your text, can never be a bad idea. It does not matter if you are new to the game and need more support, or experienced and need less, it is always good idea to run your proposal through the RDI-team, and at least let us check that you have written your proposal in Brussels English.