Impact in Horizon Europe

Published at 2021-07-29 by Paul Tuinenburg

Already for years, societal impact is playing an important role in the scientific community. Both in evaluating academia (with the REF in the UK as most famous example), and when applying for funds. When we started as impact consultants in 2012 it became mandatory for the first time in the Netherlands to write a so-called ‘knowledge utilization’ paragraph in one of the larger individual grants in the Netherlands, the Veni. Since then, the expectations from funders across European countries became clearer. Academics are much better informed today about the topic of societal impact than they were 9 years ago. In European funding, societal impact played a major role in the previous framework programme Horizon 2020 and became even more important in the new Horizon Europe programme.

We already wrote something about the new Horizon Europe programme, but now we will dive into the societal impact in Horizon Europe.

As is described here, the European Commission formulated 6 priorities. All Horizon Europe calltopics, one way or another, relate somehow to these priorities. Most directly in Pillar 2, where every calltopic has ‘expected outcomes’ for every project. The expected outcomes in a calltopic usually refer to the ‘Destinations’ that are described in the work programme and these destinations contribute to expected societal impact of the chosen clusters in Horizon Europe. The strategic plan 2021-2024 of the European Commission describes this in a bit more detail. Most important thing to remember is that there is a logic in the way the framework is build. It starts at the top with European priorities, which is broken down into key strategic orientations (KSO) on the level of the entire Horizon Europe programme. And within Horizon Europe, there are clusters with expected impacts, destinations towards these expected impacts and eventually in the calltopic level the expected outcomes of the projects. For example, cluster 1 Health, refers to KSO A and D (among others) that both have impact area’s and expected impacts associated with these strategic orientations (see image from the strategic plan).

This is important to know and to sort out before you start writing a proposal. Within such a proposal, it is usually expected to describe your impact pathway. The pathway that describes how your project will contribute to the expected impact. This should be done in steps of describing output, outcome and impact.

  • Outputs are direct insights from your project, the results achieved during the lifetime of the project.
  • Outcomes are expected from the calltopic and are usually achieved at the end and/or after the project. For instance how project stakeholders will start using the project results (and therefore you usually need dissemination strategies).
  • Impact is ultimately achieved in the longer term and should be in line with the expectations in the workprogramme.

For example, imagine you are part of a consortium with three academic hospitals and some companies to investigate a way to keep healthcare innovative. The aim for a project output is a software system that predicts the amount of patients for different diseases in the coming time period. The potential outcome is the uptake of the software system by other hospitals, outside the consortium, because of the great dissemination strategy. And the overall impact is increased efficiency in healthcare, lower costs and ensuring access to innovative and high-quality health care. The final impact is of course not only attributed to this one project. In your proposal you try to convince the reviewers that the combination of your results, consortium partners and activities in the project you will contribute to these long term expected impacts for Europe.

These activities, in your proposal, are expected to be described in terms of communication, dissemination and exploitation. Roughly activities that you include in your project to tell the world about your project (communication), tell specific stakeholders that might have a specific interest in your project (dissemination) and activities that enable others to use results/insights from your project (exploitation).

With Impacter, we simply measure the number of activities promised in the proposal and we check if we find relations towards the expected outcome of the calltopic. In the coming months, we want to investigate if there are ways to also check for more strategic links in the proposal, for instance towards the destinations or expected impacts of the clusters. More about this in one of our future blogs!

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