Horizon 2020 Survey results could help starters write better proposals

There is much advice going around on writing successful proposals for Horizon 2020. Much is common sense, and most experienced participants have their own specific strategies for partner search and proposal preparation. However there were not many data points available on what problems and obstacles newcomers to Horizon 2020 faced.  I prefer to give advice based on data, and have conducted a Horizon 2020 survey. Before writing How to write effective EU proposals I asked about problems in applying for Horizon 2020 funding.

The survey results say that finding partners is the biggest obstacle Horizon 2020 applicants face, indicated by 75% of the respondents. And another 45% said networking is difficult. I had an idea of what applicants find difficult, but I wanted to hear what others think about the Horizon 2020 application process. Therefore I conducted a survey to understand the difficulties faced by Horizon 2020 applicants.

Many Horizon 2020 newcomers feel overwhelmed by the complexity of applying for Horizon 2020. On the other hand, experienced proposal writers often see Horizon 2020 as a challenging, but well-known proposal writing competition. This dual view originates in the curse of knowledge: Once you are an expert in an area, you “forget” how it feels to start to learning. This has the unfortunate consequence that advice by experts is often less usable by novices (while still being helpful for intermediate learners). To address this problem in Horizon 2020, I conducted a survey about what is perceived as most difficult in Horizon 2020, and which applicant skills need most improvement.

Horizon 2020 Survey Results

The table below shows the responses to the question “What are the most difficult aspects of preparing a Horizon 2020 application?”1

finding partners75
how to start50
finding relevant information23

I also asked which applicant skills need most improvement1. Here the answers were different: a whopping 70% said that writing skills needed improvement, with only 55% stating networking.

organizational skills48

Horizon 2020 Book Recommendation

In order to address the problem of learning to find partners and networking, together with learning to write a proposal, I asked the question “Would you recommend a practical book about Horizon 2020 for applicants?”

The answer was clear: 96% recommended such a book.

The answers to the question “Why do you think a book on Horizon 2020 is important?” were more varied. Here are some of the responses:

  • It will help applicants in developing proposals and networking with
    other partners.
  • Because many applicants feel lost.
  • H2020 is too complex for newcomers.
  • It should be an effective guide to how to start the process.
  • It can facilitate communication.
  • The confusion about what to do and how (when making a project
    proposal) is preventing many from participation in H2020.

These answers show that a book on Horizon 2020 should focus on an simple, understandable introduction to Horizon 2020. The contents should help with finding partners, networking and proposal writing.

The book “How to write effective EU proposals” could be the solution to these Front cover of How to write effective EU proposalsproblems. The book was written to address the issues the survey uncovered. Although some results were to be expected, the survey reinforced my view that starters in Horizon 2020 are overwhelmed by the information on the EU’s sites and lack a simple and clear introduction to Horizon 2020.

1 multiple answers possible

4 thoughts on “Horizon 2020 Survey results could help starters write better proposals”

  1. Appreciated and well done effort. As you mentioned and as everybody knows, H2020 is challenging to get into. As one of the MEDITERRANEAN PARTNER COUNTRIES (MPCs), seems very difficult for us to get into H2020. It seems for me that there is an un-announced policy that prevents MPCs participation in H2020. As I remember in FPs, the MS partners were looking for a partner from MPCs but now the issue is different. may be the reason is that the minimum number of requested partners is 3 from EU – MS.

  2. Hi Muhieddin Tawalbeh,
    Yes, it is very difficult to participate from an MPC in H2020. I think two important reasons are: 1) It is difficult to establish contact and trust before building a consortium (and without funding) due to distance, language, and perceived cultural differences. 2) From an EU H2020 point of view MPC’s are often seen as a partner with an additional risk: They are outside of the EU and so different contracts arise, e.g. concerning personal data (privacy etc.) and government regulations. Probably one possibility to overcome these is to establish a strong personal network with EU actors.

  3. Hi Marc

    Interesting – though not suprising – result. Some information on your survey would be highly appreciated. How many people did you ask, and what was the response rate? And how do you define “H2020 newcomers”?

  4. Hi Melanie,
    Yes, the results confirmed what I was thinking. On the other hand, I spoke to advisor’s and experts. They often stated that newcomers just didn’t “understand” how to write a good proposal. In my view there is/was a gap in perception of what is difficult in H2020. I conducted the survey by email and asked more than a thousand email addresses (caveat: an email address is not a person, some persons send me more detailed answers). About 5% (56) responded. A “H2020 newcomer” is someone without (much) experience in H2020. For example, think of somebody in a mid-sized company wanting to be part of a consortium for the first time, or a junior researcher at a university starting to write their first proposal.

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