Horizon Europe

A short reflection on the new framework programme and its implications for Impacter

Published at 2021-04-14 by Paul Tuinenburg

No one, active in grant support, missed it; the new framework program Horizon Europe started. The successor of Horizon 2020 with an even higher budget, more focus on the Sustainable Development Goals but still aiming for competitiveness and growth in Europe. In this blog a brief overview of lessons learned from Horizon 2020, what to expect from Horizon Europe and how Impacter is changing some of its analyses to better cope with the different foci in Horizon Europe.

What can we learn from the past years in Horizon2020?

Europe has a long tradition of excellence science. With only 7% of the world population, it’s responsible for 1/3 of all high quality scientific publications and for 20% of global R&D. The main question behind the framework programs for the European Commission is: how can we keep and ideally improve this position? Since there also seems to be a lack of translating this excellence science to excellence in innovation and entrepreneurship, there definitely is something to improve. For us, this was also one of the reasons to start developing Impacter in 2017. We noticed the quality difference between the ‘science chapters’ in proposals and the ‘societal impact chapters’ in proposals. And it kind of make sense if you realize academics are trained in thinking, talking, presenting, writing and doing academic research. Usually already starting in the first year of the bachelor. There’s much less training in thinking, talking, presenting, writing and making a societal impact. No wonder it’s difficult to write good chapters about societal impact! With Impacter we automatically highlight elements in the societal impact chapter that could be improvement, mainly because the statements are unspecific. But we also learned a couple of other things in the past years analyzing Horizon 2020 proposals. For instance about writing style which lead us to changing our readability analysis (read more about this here). We noticed that a high similarity between the call topic description and the first chapter in a proposal to be a good proxy for success when applying for funds. As well as making it easy for reviewers to find your relation to the expected impacts of a proposal. Specifically for consortia projects there are success factors one should take into account. Maybe obvious, but still good to take into account is the significantly better evaluation scores for projects with a) a coordinator with experience in previous framework programs, b) a larger number of top universities with established reputation, and c) a large number of partners from West-Europe. This study actually also shows the higher success chances of application oriented consortia. These are interesting findings since there is no reason to assume this will be radically different for Horizon Europe.

What to expect from Horizon Europe?

Within Horizon Europe, there is still room for scientific excellence with the European Research Council (ERC) and the Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellowships. But there will also be more focus on the defined missions in the framework, open science and maximizing the innovation potential across the EU. The latest information about Horizon Europe and the 5 mission area’s can be found here.

Although these missions, and the link to the Sustainable Development Goals are a shift in focus in the program, there are no major structural differences. The grant system remains the same as that of Horizon 2020 with the Research and Innovation Action (RIA), Innovation Action (IA) and Coordination and Support Action (CSA) for instance. But within these actions we do see a different format for societal impact. In the draft version of the RIA/IA proposal template we see there are three subchapters:

  • 2.1 about the project’s pathways towards impact,
  • 2.2 about the measures to maximize impact and
  • 2.3 the impact summary.

Where 2.1 and 2.2 can be interpreted as updated versions of what was already the focus (focus on specific target groups and your specific contribution to them and/or the sector), chapter 2.3 is new. At first sight a superficial change, just adding a summary about the societal impact of the project, but probably quite a significant one. In Horizon 2020 proposals we saw many different ways of structuring the project’s impact chapter. Sometimes long introductions about the proposed activities, sometimes summary tables with all proposed activities. Now the commission created a framework in which you give an overview (2.3) of everything you plan to do regarding the impact. The specific societal needs you identified, the expected results of your project that will benefit these needs and the concrete measures you will take in the project. Presenting all this in the predefined canvas creates lots of opportunities for chapters 2.1 and 2.2 to deepdive into proposed activities. And of course, having one format in the shape of this canvas will benefit the reviewers a lot in making sense of the proposed activities. What implications do these lessons and expectations have for the Impacter analyses?

What is Impacter changing in their analyses?

Within Impacter, a few things will change. In order to measure societal impact, the system will still look for promised activities, stakeholders and feasibility as measures for a good impact paragraph. Because of the introduction of chapter 2.3, we will create a so called ‘co-reference resolution’ analysis to check whether all elements from the impact canvas are explained in chapters 2.1 and 2.2. There should of course be an obvious link between the text in the first two chapters and the summary! Due to the importance of policy frameworks like the Sustainable Development Goals we will add a specific SDG analysis. In this analysis, Impacter will give an estimate to which of the SDG’s your text relates most. Both as a reminder to specifically mention it if the relation is clear, or as a reminder to look into the SDG’s as a relevant policy framework for your potential societal impact. Soon we will publish a blog in which we explain how we measure your relation to an SDG. A second change is our readability measure. Last year we analyzed successful and unsuccessful proposals in our system and checked whether we could find a difference in quality in well-known readability measure. For a couple we did find these differences! These are the basis for our new readability measure in Impacter. More information on how we now measure readability can be found here.

In conclusion

Within Impacter we were already looking forward to this moment for a couple of months, but we now know the formal start of the first call topics is very close! With our updates on measuring readability, the link to the SDGs and the new impact format, we are confident that also in the coming years of this framework program our users will experience great value from using Impacter!