Brussels, 09 Mar 2004
Despite the Commission's best efforts to explain its Sixth Framework Programme – the EU's main research funding mechanism – newcomers to the programme argue it is still confusing. Two new publications should help sharpen the focus of future funding applications.
Achilleas Mitsos, Director-General of Research at the European Commission, told delegates at a recent symposium in Ireland (Headlines 2 March) that the European Union tends to emphasise new structures rather than asking what these structures might do. Research managers, who routinely spend up to six months writing funding proposals, might agree with this conclusion.
So, with new calls for proposals underway in many priority research areas of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), the timing could not be better for two new publications aimed at helping scientists and their teams secure all-important funding. The first – 'Participating in European Research: Guide for Applicants in FP6' – is a re-release of an 85-page guide produced internally by the communications unit of the Commission's Research DG, which is responsible for managing FP6.
The second, published by an Irish consulting firm, is a 226-page handbook on 'How to Write a Competitive Proposal for Framework 6'. Sean McCarthy, author of the book and managing director of Hyperion, says the 12 chapters of the book are modelled on a one-day training course his company has presented to over 14 000 researchers across Europe.
Among the new material in the Commission's 'FP6 Guide' are updated contact details, new passages in the 'How projects are organised and funded', 'Evaluation of proposals' and 'Ethical review of successful proposals' sections. Divided into six chapters, the booklet covers the basics of FP6, explains who can take part in it and, in turn, how they should go about it, as well as giving examples of past research projects and scientific priorities under the scheme.
Some handy tips
Hyperion's guide also presents practical advice and follow-up information for submitting proposals under FP6. Through extensive – perhaps over – use of figures, it examines how the funding scheme works, in particular the priority research areas. However, its strength lies in its empirical origins. The content is based on a modular structure which has been designed for training purposes and evolved over the years, according to the author.
Having an excellent proposal is no guarantee of success, says McCarthy, because of a shortage of funds or too many proposals in the particular research area. One of the keys to successful proposal writing is being able to sum up the research in one page. "I am a big fan of short, succinct proposals," he says. "Good proposals have relevant, up-to-date facts and figures [and] bad proposals have only words." He also stresses the importance of including enlargement countries as consortium partners, and addressing their problems in the proposal.
Most importantly, the guide offers some genuinely handy pointers especially for "beginner" proposal writers but also for the community of service providers working with and for the European Commission, argues Paul McCallum, an EU consultant and journalist working in Brussels. "I've helped prepare a few proposals in my time and thought I knew a lot about it, but I read some tips in the guide that could make a real difference to even an experienced EU-player."
These guides aim to take the chore out of proposal writing. The updated guide from the Commission is scheduled for release in April and will be available free of charge, while Hyperion's – which was launched in January – will cost €130. But the main difference between the guides is that, while the Commission one describes 'what' needs to be done to file a successful FP6 proposal and gives pointers on 'how' to do it, the commercial one gives ideas on 'how' it could be done but also 'why'.
A third handbook, 'European RTD 2004 – Guide for the construction and real estate cluster', has been produced by the Finnish organisation Villa Real. This guide – costing €99 – promises successful proposal writing for FP6 projects in the construction and real estate sectors.