Preparation of EU project proposals: working with consultants at CERN

The EU Framework Programmes for research, technology and innovation have become increasingly competitive over the past decade. In some of the FP7 and H2020 programmes the success rates have been below 10% which means that thousands of proposals – many of them of high quality and well above the evaluation thresholds – are being turned down and “wasted” because of the budgetary constraints.

Writing a winning EU proposal is a time / effort-consuming exercise, which is possible if the coordination team has had some experience with EU projects and if the proposal is excellent in all sections; not just the S&T content, but also the Impact and the Implementation as well. Presenting the proposal in a “professional manner” – with suitable graphic content and in a way easy to read – may be critical for some calls where the evaluators are asked to read 5-10 proposals for 2-3 days. This means they spend basically just a few hours on each proposal and the one that “sells better” has a higher chance of obtaining a better score.

That is why many consortia preparing EU projects engage specialised consulting companies to write their proposals. The fees of the consultants are quite high and there is no any guarantee for success. Nonetheless, proposals written or reviewed by consultants are usually improved one way or another. And most of the consulting companies attract their clients by claiming they have a track record with success rates much higher than the average.

Over the past years CERN teams have started to work with consultants for the preparation of EU projects, in particular ones which are coordinated by the Organisation. The main drivers for engaging a consulting company have been so far1:

(i) the lack of man-power and time within CERN to be dedicated to the proposal writing
(ii) new funding scheme with which CERN has not had experience;
(iii) Calls that were known in advance to be super-competitive so that every (fraction of a) point that might be gained with the help of the consultants could be decisive.

In order to provide a summary of the cumulative experience of CERN related to working with consultants, the EU Projects Office has collected input from a number of CERN staff that have engaged consulting companies for EU proposals in FP7 and H2020.

The summary document "Preparation of EU project proposals: working with consultants at CERN" is available to CERN staff members upon request

1 In general, it is recommended to engage a consultant also when one or more of the following factors emerge: (i) unexperienced consortium or Coordinator; (ii) experienced consortium partners but lack of time and/or efficient collaboration; (iii) lack of steering to prepare and submit a proposal; (iv) the proposal needs to be put together “in a hurry”; (v) project and consortium appear to have weaknesses and need substantial strengthening.

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