Brussels, 16 Dec 2005
According to the authors of a new report on the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5), the programme was a success, with high levels of goal attainment and impacts in terms of knowledge and networking that matched perfectly the generic goals of the EU's collaborative research programme.
The report has been published by the European Commission's Directorate-General for Research, and is based on the results of a questionnaire circulated during 2004 to participants in FP5.
The report underlines that although questionnaires do not allow one to estimate the exact impact of individual research and development (R&D) projects on macroeconomic performance, they provide critical information about the impacts on individual participants, on levels of goal attainment, and on participant satisfaction levels.
For research teams, achievements were particularly marked in terms of knowledge-related and network-related goals. Research results were also utilised to good effect by their parent organisations, which used project results in-house. Academics and industrialists alike generally saw FP5 as a means of improving the competitiveness of their organisations and of producing new products, processes and services, according to the report.
Major achievements were also obtained in terms of the internal use of project results and the enhanced reputations of participating organisations, with indications that competitive positions were strengthened for many, and modest commercial returns achieved by significant numbers, especially by industrial partners ranking such goals as important.
Goal attainment and impact were also high for those participants considering exploitation in the form of new products, processes and services to be important. Although impacts on user communities and even further downstream were weaker, these results were in line with expectations for collaborative research and development (R&D) programmes, and by the time of the survey, half of those surveyed had already benefited from some commercial returns.
FP5 encouraged interaction between a rich mix of R&D-oriented stakeholders in the EU. It allowed participants with previous cooperation experience to extend the scope of their networks and form new partnerships. Participation in earlier programmes was also not a limiting factor. However, the report did note that newcomers to FP5 were found to be less likely to apply for funds under the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), and more likely to fail in their applications for funding than more experienced participants.
Typically, participants considered their research conducted in FP5 to be part of a continuous stream of R&D: FP5 projects built on past work conducted in-house and led to further R&D projects in-house. Many projects also built on work conducted within the context of national and earlier EU programmes and led to further work in subsequent programmes of a similar nature. FP5 R&D projects were generally considered to be strategically important, technically complex projects in core technology areas for the organisations concerned. Only a few projects fell into the high-cost/high-risk category.
Participants recognised that many of these achievements and impacts would not have been realised in the absence of FP5: as many as 57 per cent of the participants acknowledged that they would not have undertaken their projects without EU funding, and such funding allowed a further 36 per cent to conduct their projects on a larger scale, with more partners, and with more ambitious objectives. Overall, 55 per cent of the project participants felt that the benefits of involvement in FP5 outweighed the costs. It should be noted that industrial partners were generally more sceptical about the benefits of participation than academics.
The report also reflects the main causes of dissatisfaction. Besides the lack of availability of additional funding to underpin successful project results, the implementation of the programme, in particular application and evaluation procedures as well as project payment arrangements, were highlighted by a significant minority. More worryingly, the report shows that levels of satisfaction with the benefits of participation have dropped since a comparable survey conducted in 2000. The transition from FP5 to FP6 was not found to be smooth, although participants are generally more dissatisfied with the FP6 instruments than with the FP5 instruments.
To the extent that participants generally achieved their objectives, the EU benefited from the existence of FP5. Although the European Council's goal of the EU becoming a leading knowledge-based society by 2010 was set at Lisbon after the launch of FP5, the programme's success in enhancing skill sets and providing more and better researchers has undoubtedly strengthened the European Research Area and contributed to the Lisbon goal. The fact that many projects would not have taken place, or would have been performed less optimally, in the absence of EU funding is also an indication of overall European added value.
Finally, the report advises improving the acceptability of programme procedures and modalities, with the aim of enhancing the attractiveness of future framework programmes for academic and industry partners alike. The report also formulates a series of recommendations to improve the overall programme performance, including ensuring that proposal selection criteria adequately reflect many of the project attributes associated with successful outcomes, including clearly specified and ambitious project goals in project proposals, and evidence of sound technical, managerial and exploitation capabilities within partnerships.