How to find European partners for H2020 research consortia

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Tags: H2020 | Partners | Collaboration | Tutorial series

Interview with Dr. Corina ABRAHAM-BARNA, National Contact Point for Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions in Romania
Prof. Corina Georgeta ABRAHAM-BARNA is member of the network of Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions National Contact Points, nominated by the Romanian National Authority for Scientific Research and Innovation in 2009. She has 20 years’ work experience in Higher Education and Research and 13 years' work experience in International Relations.

How can a research group in Korea become involved in an H2020 research consortium?

The best way to build a project consortium is to use one’s professional and personal connections, and subsequently to develop the network, based on the specific roles to be played in the project by all partners. As researchers, we are constantly collaborating with peers from other countries. This group of people should be the first network to be mobilised when looking for collaborators to join or form an H2020 consortium. However, researchers should also reach out beyond their personal connections to those colleagues whose work they draw on and with whom they share common research interests. Researchers in Asia should not hesitate to can get in direct contact with their Europe contacts, asking them if they are interested to be involved in a specific call for proposals.

On the other hand, structuring a good consortium also means adhering to the principles of complementarity and interdisciplinarity, as every institution needs to fulfil specific tasks in the project. Building a consortium for a project is like reconstructing a jigsaw, where the pieces are not the same, but they need to fit together in a way that ensures all work packages and tasks described in the call details are covered. So, we need to involve not only colleagues from our field, but also complementary research teams.

In the frame of the Horizon 2020 programme (H2020), it is a compulsory requirement that collaborative research projects involve at least 3 participants from 3 different EU Member States or Associated Countries [note: in ther case of MSCA-RISE calls, the minimum configuration could be even simpler, with 2 participants from 2 different EU Member States or Associated Countries; and 1 participant from Korea]. Once this basic requirement has been fulfilled, additional partners from non-European countries – for example, research players based in Korea – can join the consortium.


Which attributes should a good research partner have?

Since the three evaluation and award criteria of Horizon 2020 proposals are excellence, impact as well as quality and efficiency of the implementation, high levels of scientific expertise and experience of the core partners are essential, and their excellence must be described in the proposal.

When choosing partners for a research consortium it is important to first get a clear understanding of the project goals. As a second step it is essential to carefully define the activities which are necessary to accomplish these goals and to group them into so-called work packages, for example management, experimental activities, dissemination etc. The work packages can then be divided into different tasks with specific activities and assigned to the different partners of the consortium. It goes without saying that the partners should be chosen based on their ability to accomplish the tasks set out in the project.

Research actors from academia and industry, including SMEs, but also NGOs can be partners of a research consortium. Most importantly, all partners need to be reliable and committed to the project and their obligations. Each partner should bring to the project excellent skills in a particular scientific field. While it is not obligatory, an ideal consortium partner already has previous experience in EU projects or international research cooperation. The partners within your research consortium should be well balanced in terms of geographical spread, expertise and type of organisation (Academia, Research centres, Industry, SMEs etc.). A fully integrated and balanced team should have a critical mass of research staff, a clearly described complementarity of the different partners, with a clear designation of roles and functions that rules out overlap or duplication. With regards to ensuring the societal impact of the research project being carried out, the consortium should carefully consider involving SMEs, consumer organisation, or associations etc.

When deliberating whether to choose partners from existing contacts or to approach new ones it is important to assess the following pros and cons. Existing contacts are likely most effective, most reliable and most predictable given a history of previous collaborations. However, past collaborators may at times be less suitable for a new project, especially when looking for complementary skills. New contacts may be a greater risk but may be a better option when looking for complementary skill sets in the different partners.


How can researchers in Korea build up their research network?

The European Commission provides a large number of networking opportunities for research actors. The Participant Portal offers a partnering tool. Representatives of the European Commission, often in partnership with EURAXESS Worldwide, are frequently organising H2020 Info Days, project writing workshops and brokerage or match making events. Networking events are important for finding partners. Make sure to join your respective EURAXESS Worldwide network to stay updated on upcoming events and opportunities.

Researchers should make use of the scientific events they attend for networking purposes. Remember to be pragmatic and speak to colleagues at conferences and events; invite them to join a new project and communicate your interest to join their projects as well. When attending scientific events, do make sure to come prepared with a clear idea of your objectives. Preparing an ‘elevator pitch’ (a very short oral presentation) could be crucial in securing interest of potential new partners for your project. Make use of those discussions during the coffee break and always follow up with an email.

It is important to continue investing in the relationship with your research partners even after the project has been completed. Do make sure you remain visible as a reliable partner.

Are there platforms to find European research partners?

The H2020 project management tool is the Participant Portal, which includes a Partner Finding Tool. The Projects & Results Service CORDIS is another extremely useful database of institutions and/or research consortia that have successfully participated in previous projects funded by Horizon 2020 (or any of the previous funding programmes).

Moreover, a new tool for finding partners for concrete calls has recently been created. On every call page, potential applicants will now find a Call for Partner Search, where organisations are expressing their interest in collaborating with other researchers in this specific topic. Interested research actors can publish their partner requests for open and forthcoming topics after logging into the Participant Portal.

Please let me emphasise that individual researchers wishing to submit proposals to specific calls need to create a personal profile on the Participant Portal. Institutions intending to participate in projects are required to create a unique organisation profile to receive a PIC number - unique identifier for organisations. This is a 9-digit number which institutions will received after registering the organisation in the Beneficiary Register. Please do check whether your organisation has already been registered by using the PIC search form. If this is the case, there is no need to register it again.

Please do also make use of the EURAXESS website which offers a partner finding tool.  

How can junior researchers look for a supervisor in Europe to host their MSCA fellowship?

The EURAXESS Portal is an important tool for institutions and researchers who are looking for collaborators. Registration is free of charge and allows access to a growing global network of mobile researchers. European institutions are posting their offers to host an MSCA fellow on the EURAXESS Portal.

The network of the National Contact Points for Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA NCPs) are also offering support in finding a European host and partner. You can find ‘Expressions of Interest’ (EOI) for researchers who are looking for a partner institution for MSCA projects, or for host institution for MSCA fellowships or MSCA fellowship positions published on their website.

Which would be the steps for being involved in an H2020 project?

The first step is to search the H2020 Participant Portal for a suitable call for proposals.

Once you have selected a call make sure to carefully study the call description, terms of reference and all related documents. Do make use of the H2020 Online Manual, a detailed guide on the formal procedures starting from proposal submission to grant management.

After identifying a suitable call for proposals, the second step is to find project partners or to apply as an individual. Make use of the different partner search services in finding partner organisations.

The third step is to create an individual account on the Participant Portal.

The fourth step is to register your organisation. Start by checking first on the Organisation Register page if your organisation is already registered. Only if you do not find your organisation there, you should start its registration by clicking on the Register Organisation button.

Step Five is step is to submit your project proposal to the European Commission. To submit your project proposal, you need to go to the section Electronic Proposal Submission on a specific Topic page that belongs to a call. You need to be logged in with your Participant Portal account to start filling in standard forms and to submit your proposal.

If you are invited by the coordinator to join a project proposal, you need to create a personal profile, and to send to the coordinator the email address used for your Participant Portal profile and the PIC number of your institution.

Other opportunities for researchers in Korea to develop their competencies in European projects?

As individuals, a researcher can join the database of independent experts. The European Commission frequently appoints independent experts to assist with assignments that include the evaluation of proposals, the monitoring of projects, the evaluation of programmes, and the design of policy. The opportunity to become an expert is open to any researcher with a high level of expertise in his or her relevant fields and with the flexibility to be involved in occasional, short-term assignments. Participation in the evaluation process will be financially compensated and is usually done online; at times there may be a meeting held in Brussels, Belgium.

Dr. Corina ABRAHAM-BARNA, thank you very much for your advice!