Writing a winning Horizon 2020 proposal is not an easy job. Especially because you have to collaborate with people from different organisations and countries and deliver an excellent proposal if you want to get funded!
So here are 20 critical mistakes that you should avoid when writing a proposal. Of course, you have to consider many other issues, but making sure that you get these things right will definitely increase your chances of getting funded.
1. You don’t invest enough…
Horizon 2020 is very competitive and only the best projects get funded. So if you’re considering writing a proposal in anything less than a serious way – better not to do it! It will just be a waste of time and effort for you and your team members. If you commit – you have to make it excellent!
2. You don’t follow the guidelines
There are various presentations available online, and there are regular information days and other initiatives where information on how to write a proposal is provided by European Commission representatives. Don’t take it as blah-blah. They really follow the guidelines and they really demonstrate in the smallest detail what is important, where to pay attention, what to include, etc.
3. You haven’t met all the requests of the call
It’s kind of pure mathematics here. There are the requests of the call – specific challenges, expected impact, the scope of the call – and you need to be sure that your project will meet each of these points and subpoints.
4. The objectives of the proposal aren’t clear
You have to clearly define the objectives you wish to achieve by implementing the project. Highlight the objectives so they will be clear to anybody looking at the proposal. Remember that your objectives must fit the challenges of the call, and they need to be SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely.
5. The concept and methodology aren’t well elaborated
The concept and the chosen methodology should be demonstrated clearly so that experts can understand how the goals will be achieved. You have to demonstrate that your consortium has a clear vision of how to do it and that every detail is as well thought out as possible in this stage. This is one of the most critical points of the proposal. If the methodology and concept are not clear and well explained, the rest of the proposal can be as good as you want… but the chances of getting funded will be very low…
6. You didn’t take into account stakeholder knowledge
Another important point, since you need to know that the technologies or services you want to develop will actually be useful. That is why it’s important to seriously consider stakeholder knowledge. There are so many ways to do this. Of course, everything depends on your project’s idea and the stakeholders.
7. The communication and dissemination plan isn’t good
Communication and dissemination activities are very important. Research projects, as well as other EU-funded projects, are implemented using public money. So not only the professionals involved but also society should know what has been done. Professionals, in particular, should know what has been implemented since they might need your technology or service sooner or later.
8. You’re talking too much about yourself
Even if you’ve developed a communication and dissemination plan, sometimes, when it comes to actions, we’ve seen that research project representatives talk a lot about their project, their inventions, their services, etc. However, it’s never about you! It’s about what your innovation or research can bring to society or industry. So stop talking about yourself! Start talking about what’s in it for others!
9. The management procedures aren’t good
Clear management procedures are very important! Imagine there will be several consortium members that have maybe never worked together. So you need to know and establish at a very early stage – namely the application – how you will manage the project. Of course, you can’t include all the management procedures or the full descriptions. However, the facts that you include in the proposal should make clear to experts that you will be able to manage the project.
10. The proposal wasn’t well structured and formatted
It’s so important to format and structure the proposal so that experts can clearly see what, where, etc. A nice design always helps to make a positive impression and make your proposal stand out and demonstrate that you’ve invested time and effort. Of course, you don’t want to make it too fancy, colourful, etc. It should be nice, clean and pleasant to read.
11. You didn’t demonstrate complementarity
All the consortium members should be complementary. Your consortium should form an excellent team with all the necessary competencies, expertise and experience to carry out the project, and it’s important that you demonstrate this extremely well in your proposal.
12. Risk analysis and mitigation measures aren’t good enough
Every project has risks. It’s important that you acknowledge and note the risks that you might face as well as their probability and impact on the project. More importantly, you have to come up with logical mitigation measures. The experts who evaluate your project need to know that you’re aware of the risks and know how to fix things if something happens.
13. Issues with IPRs
Your proposal has to include a draft plan for knowledge management and the protection of IPRs. Again, not every IPR issue needs to be foreseen and included. However, you should demonstrate a clear understanding of IPRs and how potential problems will be solved if your project is funded.
14. No business plan
Of course, not every call requires a business plan. However, most of them do. Developing a great business plan in its entirety might take up a lot of space. But if there are commercial opportunities, you must include this information – briefly and clearly. The purpose of the preliminary business plan is to demonstrate the commercial potential of the product and/or service (offering) and describe how this potential will be realised.
15. Problems with open research data
If research data is generated, you need to make sure that the proposal identifies the types of data that will be generated, the standards that will be used, and how the data will be exploited and/or shared/made accessible for verification and re-use. This is a rather small subpoint under one of the criteria. However, it can be crucial for your proposal during the evaluation and can cost you the entire funding.
16. Problems with the work plan
If you know what you’re going to do, and you diligently plan all the steps, then this point shouldn’t cause problems for you. However, if some of the actions are not planned well enough, the experts might doubt that the project can be carried out as planned. Pay serious attention to your work plan, because if you get funded – you will have to follow it and deliver the results as promised.
17. You subcontract too much
Subcontracting is not seen as a positive aspect of the proposal. Why should you subcontract a lot? If you need to subcontract, maybe consider making the organisation in question a consortium member. Sometimes there are situations where you need to subcontract and where it’s a logical step to subcontract. In such a situation, you should explain why this is the best solution and why it’s crucial to the success of the project.
18. Other direct costs are too high
Normally other direct costs shouldn’t exceed 15% of the participants’ personnel costs. However, there are situations where these costs are more than 15%. In this case, you need to explain why. Also, be reasonable, because you might lose points and credibility if your other direct costs for position X or Z are too high or too low.
19. Not all the participants have a valid role
There might be an organisation that is excellent in what they do, and you really like to work with them; however, it might not be obvious that their role is valid in this project. Make sure that all this information is well demonstrated.
20. Be original – don’t copy-paste
It’s clear that some information might be available in previous proposals made by consortium members X or Y. However, each project has to be as unique as each call. So don’t try to copy-paste any parts. Even if you’re resubmitting your proposal, try to improve each part of it, not only those that got negative feedback from the experts.
We hope that these tips will help you to write a winning proposal. Contact us if you need any help with:
- the communication and dissemination part
- stakeholder knowledge
- formatting and designing a proposal
- auditing and recommendations to improve your proposal
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