Brussels, 09 April 2002
'You can't extrapolate anything from the Fifth Framework programme [FP5] to the Sixth Framework programme [FP6]. It is a fundamentally different concept because of the new instruments and because we want to tackle the issue of over-subscription,' said Peter Kind, Director of the Research DG's Directorate for 'ERA - structural matters' in an interview with CORDIS News.
As head of the Commission's task force on the new instruments for FP6, the new EU four year research and development programme due to start at the end of the year, Mr Kind is well aware of the difficulties involved in developing new instruments and explaining how they will work. Speaking exclusively to CORDIS News, Mr Kind reflected on Commission's actions so far, including organising the publication of a call for expressions of interest and information seminars, as well as analysing the problems and the goals.
Rates of over-subscription in FP5 have been 'excessive' according to Mr Kind, and the new instruments proposed for FP6 are a way in which to reduce the time and money necessary to put together a project. The average size of a project in FP6 could be up to 10 times the size of an FP5 project, and the Commission is hoping that this will lead to a drop in the number of proposals received by a factor of up to 20 in comparison with FP5.
'When you translate that back to the number of topics you need to identify in the call, it means you're looking for a hugely reduced number because you only want to attract five per cent by number of the proposals you used to receive,' Mr Kind told CORDIS News. He believes it is paramount that contractors have an assurance that there will not be excessive over-subscription.
Mr Kind believes that this hugely reduced number of topics in the FP6 calls will mean a surge of hypothetical proposals in response to the publishing of a call for expressions of interest in March 2002.
'I suspect that if it's going to be anywhere away from the mean that we expect, it will be towards the too many rather than the too few. It is clear to those that are interested, that if they do not submit an expression of interest, their topic is in danger of not being in the call,' he said.
The Commission has other interests in issuing a call for expressions of interest. It is one more step in the quest to raise awareness about the new instruments, and provides the Commission with information on how successful their attempts have been thus far in explaining to researchers how the new instruments will function.
'The expression of interest requires people to go to the document, to understand what a network of excellence or an integrated project is so that they can start putting together their expression of interest. People will start forming embryonic consortia [and get them] to start crystallising their ideas,' said Mr Kind.
Conveying the message has been no easy feat, according to Mr Kind, even though the Commission has been in continuous consultation with stakeholders on the proposals for FP6. One of the principal problems has the constraints of language when attempting to describe new concepts, said Mr Kind.
'The English language, despite its richness of words, doesn't have new words to describe new concepts. The problem is, as soon as you see the word project or network, everyone immediately has preconceived ideas of what is a project and what is a network,' he added.
'Using words is not enough to convey the message. It requires a lot of extra information behind the simple words in order to make it clear that things have changed,' said Mr Kind, alluding to one of the reasons for the recent information seminars that the Commission organised in order to inform 'information multipliers' about the new instruments in FP6.
Mr Kind describes the seminars as a 'step inside the idea of consultation,' which the Commission adopted instead of presenting a fait accompli to the research community. Consultation has not been without criticism, as ideas have changed. Despite these difficulties, Mr Kind has no doubt that this was the right way to proceed.
'I think this is a much healthier way to develop new concepts. There's no reason why we are the only people with good ideas,' he said.
Feedback from the seminars as well as from general dialogue is being filtered through Commission task forces, which involve all of the DGs responsible for research activities. In addition to a task force on instruments, of which Mr Kind is chairman, such groups are also working on areas such as the evaluation process, model contracts and the informatics system used for submitting proposals.
The instruments task force is now moving down from the development of broad concepts, 'which are now more or less stable,' according to Mr Kind, to the more complex details. The group is working on issues such as ensuring the instruments are as simple and rapid to implement as they can be, whilst providing maximum flexibility and autonomy.
One new instrument which has received less attention than the networks of excellence and integrated projects is Article 169, something which Mr Kind describes as 'potentially the most powerful of all instruments.' Whilst the other new instruments are aimed at integrating institutions, Article 169 would see the integration of national programmes. Because of an implementation procedure which is 'frighteningly complicated', in the words of Mr Kind, 'it is very unlikely that it [Article 169] will be a generalised instrument, and certainly not in the foreseeable future.' The Commission will however present pilot proposals to the Research Council this year, with the aim of making the instrument more employable.
Alongside the new instruments, the old instruments will be used for those areas where researchers are not ready to use the new instruments. Responses to the expressions of interest will give the Commission an idea of where these areas lie. Although too early to know how FP6 calls for proposals will look, one suggestion is that they will list topics where proposals for integrated projects or networks of excellence are sought, and topics where specific targeted research project proposals are sought. These will be used 'where you want to move things forward, but can't use a big instrument,' says Mr Kind.
Asked whether everything is on schedule, Mr Kind replied by saying that 'it depends what is on the critical path.' The Commission's main concern is that the legislative process may be delayed, but 'the Commission will do everything it can to try and reach a consensus between the three main institutions involved to avoid going to the conciliation process...It's too early to be pessimistic, but it is a tall challenge,' added Mr Kind.