April 20, 2011

inside the FP7 evaluation (last part): how to build funded proposals

Don't expect any miracle from this post, and don't expect anything for posts with similar titles: there is no unique recipe for winning proposal. However, I can sketch a few tips that I will at least try to apply to my own proposals:
  • In the specific case of the FP7 STREP, every proposal is read by only three reviewers (no more no less) randomly picked among a set of very diverse reviewers, from experienced academics to young industrials (and vice versa) from various countries. Contrarily to the funding process of Google, there is no single reviewer target. Therefore, proposals should cover several "reading styles". Hopefully, there is no page limit, so don't hesitate to explain things several times in several ways.
  • The Criteria 1 ("Scientific and Technical Quality") can kill a proposal, but it can hardly make a winner. Your objective is to not give any opportunity for reviewer to criticize, so don't waste your energy there, just do a clean job. Recall that STREP is not about new scientific breakthrough, it is about incremental but sure progresses beyond State-of-the-Art. No reviewer can argue against a series of incremental loosely-consistent progresses in several domains. A bad note in Criteria 1 is more often due to a faulty or unconvincing workplan. Don't try to produce super-clever ambitious workplan, but describe things (scientific ideas and, more important, processes) that have 100% chances to be implemented. Revise your workplan a lot because some reviewers harshly track inconsistencies.
  • You have to differentiate, and the best place is Criteria 3 ("Exploitation and Dissemination"). The majority of proposals do not provide any market analysis, only claim standard dissemination plans, and describe very vague exploitation plans. The best proposals include real-world experimentations during the projects (which is actually appreciated), contain some partners that are actually involved in standardization processes, or have already identified some third-party companies to include in the proposal as external partners (or in a associated committee). The exploitation plan should be preferentially written at the beginning of the project, because it has a direct impact on the partners in the consortium, on the perimeter of the required scientific progresses and on the workplan (e.g. a real-world experimentation requires a specific work-package and a early prototype from technical work-packages). When the exploitation plan is strong, the whole project is fully consistent.
I know that the usual process is definitely not this one. We usually work a lot on the scientific breakthroughs, trying to copy-paste endless bibliographic works written by students, to incorporate old scientific friends and to make the whole stuff as consistent as possible. Then, we let every partner write its own work package, and we argue a lot about the number of men/months and fundings. Finally, we have a few hours to write some crappy paragraphs about the exploitation. And we have wasted at least one month because the resulting proposal is all but a winner...

1 comment:

  1. No page limit ? Enjoy it while it last but I am of the opinion that setting page limit provides a way for the different stakeholders to focus on the actual deliverables of the project.

    I am also surprised that you wrote this entry, this is pretty much the usual fare in the US. Should I understand from your blog entry that writing proposals used to be done some other way ?