The In-depth Interim Evaluation of Horizon 2020 shows that Horizon 2020 is successful in meeting its objectives to tackle EU´s biggest societal challenges. With a 10% increase in number of proposals submitted every year and participants coming from 131 countries of which more than half are newcomers, Horizon 2020 proved itself to be extremely attractive. Even so attractive, that its biggest problem is actually oversubscription.
With Horizon 2020 being in its third year of implementation the European Commission published the Interim Evaluation Results of the Horizon 2020 programme on 30 May 2017. The majority of stakeholders generally considered that oversubscription results in discouraging participation, reducing the quality of evaluations, wasting too many resources on proposal development and evaluation – and leaving a number of high-quality proposals unfunded.
We discovered that there are various reasons as to why an unproportionally high number of proposals are submitted compared to the number of projects which can be funded and three possible remedies to address the problem:
More bottom-up calls on broader topics
Narrowing scope and expected impact of top-down topics
Increased use of 2-stage submission procedure
Horizon 2020 increased the use of the 2-stage submission procedure in parts of the programme to address oversubscription and reduce the burden of proposal writing and evaluation. This included introducing new rules in the 2016 – 2017 Work Programme aiming to have the number of stage 2 proposals equating to approximately three times the available budget. As an overall result, the success rate of stage 2 proposals almost doubled from around 20% to close to 40% in 2016. A 10-page stage 1 proposal is clearly more attractive from a proposal writers’ viewpoint than the full proposal with up to 70 pages, consequently again driving up the number of submitted proposals. However, a high quality stage-1 proposal still requires a fully developed project concept, backed by a winning consortium, which then is compressed into 10 pages, or 9 if you choose to leave the title page. The initial effort required for conception of a collaborative project resulting in the stage 1 proposal may represent 50% of the effort required for a full proposal, which is still an improvement, but not to be underestimated.
Stakeholders of the Horizon 2020 programme like universities, it appears, would prefer to see more bottom-up open calls facilitating more research freedom and accommodating more fundamental research. At the other end of the spectrum, industry and SME’s are looking for quicker solutions to improve their competitiveness within ever shortening economic cycles. Even with maximum time-to-grant of 8 months duration, the Horizon 2020 Work Programme is probably not the most appropriate funding instrument for this group in this regard. Somewhere in the middle are the Research and Technology Organisations, working mainly on mid to high TRL projects. They would like to see more focused topics narrowing the scope and expected impact, which would lead to a natural reduction of the number of applicants.
The total preparation effort for a proposal having gone through two stages clearly exceeds (and takes longer) than that of a single stage submission, but as a result less consortia are making the full effort, which leads to overall increased system efficiency – but excellence has a price.Stephen Webb, RTDS Group
See full infographics here.