From Information to Action: The Purpose of Horizon 2020 Info Days
Questions: Christian van der Merwe
Responses: Tugela Matubatuba (TM) and Constantine Vaitsas (CV)
In what ways do information sessions organised by networks such as CAAST-Net Plus, INCONTACT 2020 and ESASTAP Plus help to boost African researchers’ and SMEs’ chances of winning Horizon 2020 funding?
TM: Info sessions are arranged to raise awareness of current Horizon 2020 opportunities and the processes researchers and innovators should follow if they want to participate in the programme. Proposals are evaluated based on criteria set by the EU and so sessions are aimed at preparing and equipping the research community to be able to respond appropriately. Sometimes info sessions are paired with brokerage (or networking) events, where NCPs facilitate partner matching between African and European researchers who are keen to collaborate on responding to Horizon 2020 or, indeed, other EU opportunities.
CV: Info sessions are critical because they are carefully designed to support researchers in participating in Horizon 2020 projects. So researchers gain access to vital information that they might otherwise have missed. But they also benefit from the networking, which is explicitly promoted through these sessions. It is this formula — of key information and networking — that can help to drive cooperation between researchers from around the world and that, in turn, can leads to successful research and innovation project proposals.
How have researchers and SMEs from your national or regional contexts responded to Horizon 2020 information sessions?
TM: The South African research and innovation community that I work with closely through the ESASTAP Plus project has generally welcomed the Horizon 2020 info session offering. Many have been particularly enthusiastic in submitting follow-up queries to the DST. Some have considered establishing proposal writing networks. A few have actually gone the full distance and responded to Horizon 2020 calls, and won funding!
By the same token, a number of participants have expressed concerns about the investment of time and effort in putting together a response to a Horizon 2020 call. We do our best to support the community in this regard, such as through providing seed funding for proposal development.
CV: Positively! The research and innovation communities I have worked with on the African continent through the CAAST-Net Plus project appreciate the Horizon 2020 info sessions we have delivered. This is because these sessions offer participants the opportunity to access new programme information and any updates, for example, on participation rules, reporting and financial modalities, and so on. This data is usually presented by an officer experienced in the mechanisms of the programme. So info sessions offer the right platform to meet with experienced programme participants and EU representatives to ask or discuss specific issues regarding their prospects for participation.
What have been some of the positive outcomes of the information sessions that you have organised?
TM: South Africa has witnessed an increase of the country’s participation in the framework programme over the past decade and this can certainly in part be attributed to the active interventions of the DST and ESASTAP-PLUS. Of course more still needs to be done! We want to encourage the South African and, through CAAST-Net Plus, the broader African research and innovation community to participate in EU funding programmes. We anticipate many more info sessions to promote these instruments, especially with the private sector and institutions that have not yet participated in projects.
CV: It is encouraging to see the info sessions populated by high numbers of researchers. Equally, we are pleased to have connected with so many young researchers and more experienced researchers with previous framework programme exposure. But it is not only about the high participation numbers: the main positive signs are the level of engagement during the sessions and subsequent follow-ups that are made by participants with the presenters. One of our ambitions in the coming months is to explore in more depth how these connections are leading to new proposal development networks.
Tugela Matubatuba is a Horizon 2020 National Contact Point at the Department of Science and Technology in South Africa.
Constantine Vaitsas is the Horizon 2020 National Contact Point at the FORTH/PRAXI Network, Greece.
Christian van der Merwe is a reporter for *Research Africa, based in Cape Town.
*An earlier version of this article first appeared in the CAAST-Net Plus Magazine of June 2015.
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Disclaimer: CAAST-Net Plus is funded by the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n0 311806. This document reflects only the authors’ views and the European Union cannot be held liable for any use that may be made of the information contained herein.