Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Dissemination v. communication

Section 2.2a of the standard proposal template for RIA and IA asks proposers to include a draft plan for the dissemination and exploitation of project results. Section 2.2b asks them to describe the proposed communication measures for promoting the project and its findings. What’s the difference between dissemination and communication?

Dissemination is defined in the Rules for Participation as “public disclosure of the results by any appropriate means (other than resulting from protecting or exploiting the results), including by scientific publications in any medium”. There is no corresponding definition of communication, but the grant agreement says that the “beneficiaries must promote the action and its results, by providing targeted information to multiple audiences (including the media and the public) in a strategic and effective manner”. From this it seems that dissemination is chiefly aimed at peers, usually other researchers working in the area of the proposed project, while communication is aimed at non specialists, including stakeholders whose interest is in potential application of the results.

Clearly both activities are important. Yet according to the grant agreement, it is necessary to report on the (exploitation and) dissemination of results, but not on their communication. Strange.

Singleimage - H2020 Training Workshops and Advice

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Missing consortium agreement spotted!

In July we mentioned that the EC had placed a contract with a law firm to produce model consortium agreements for Horizon 2020. Despite being due for delivery in March 2014, they still had not been published. Some guidance on establishing a consortium agreement has appeared on the Participant Portal, but no model agreement.

However, a version of the agreements has now appeared on the Innovation Union website of the EC. They form the second half of a report on progress of a “Study to support the development and implementation of Innovation Union commitment 21 on knowledge transfer”.

The report contains five agreements: letter of intent, multilateral confidentiality, consortium, sale and purchase, and licensing. A quick reading of the consortium agreement finds:

• As part of the management structure, work package leaders are chosen by the organisations involved in the work package. This appears to be in conflict with the grant agreement, which identifies the organisation leading each work package.

• Similar to the Digital Europe and EUCAR consortium agreements, this one includes sideground in its definition of background. Unlike the Digital Europe and EUCAR agreements, it does not extend access rights to all results.

• To gain access rights, affiliates must be listed explicitly in the consortium agreement, but are not limited to those in the EU and Associated Countries, as suggested by the grant agreement.

Of course, this may not be the final version of the agreement. Who knows?

Singleimage - H2020 Training Workshops and Advice

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

EC saves €0.5bn – at your expense

The Horizon 2020 grant agreement requires that personnel costs are claimed using hourly rates calculated for each organisation’s closed financial years. If a financial year is not closed at the end of a reporting period, you must use the hourly rate of the last closed financial year. As a result, if personnel costs are increasing, costs claimed will almost always be less than actual costs incurred. By how much?

The answer depends on whether a project has 12 month or 18 month reporting periods, whether reporting periods coincide with financial years, and the point in the financial year that increases occur. Here we assume that increases coincide with the start of the financial year, and project duration is 36 months.

For projects with 18 month reporting periods, the loss will range from about 17% of any cost increase to 44%, with an average of 31%. To put a value on this, assume that personnel costs rise by 2.6% each year – the rate reported by the European Industrial Relations Observatory for collectively agreed nominal pay across 13 EU countries between 2012 and 2013. If personnel costs account for 85% of direct costs, then during H2020 costs claimed including overheads will be €528m lower than using actual personnel costs.

Singleimage - H2020 Training Workshops and Advice

Friday, 29 August 2014

When is a deliverable not a Deliverable?

Deliverables are an important part of the EC grant agreement. Each deliverable is a distinct output of a project, representing a significant element of the work. They can take the form of a document, a prototype, a web site, a piece of software etc. According to the proposal template, deliverables exclude periodic and final reports, and normally are not submitted at the same time as these reports. Submission of deliverables and reports are described in separate articles of the H2020 grant agreement.

But in the three model H2020 consortium agreements currently available, deliverables and reports are treated as one. Two talk of “submitting reports, other deliverables (including financial statements and related certifications)”, adding the further confusion that financial statements are deliverables, not components of the periodic and final reports as described in the grant agreement. The third consortium agreement defines deliverables as “all reports, certificates, data and other information required to be provided to the funding authority”.

Of course, consortium agreements can define words to have any meaning they choose, if the way the words are then used doesn’t contradict the grant agreement. But it would be easier to understand the consortium agreements if they didn’t redefine words already in widespread use in EC projects, even if the agreements use upper case text to identify when a defined term is being used!

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Thursday, 31 July 2014

Formula 1 timesheets?

At a recent discussion of timesheets in H2020, an audience member asked whether it would be necessary to decorate the timesheet with an H2020 logo. It seems that auditors checking the cost of ERDF (European Regional Development Fund) projects had suggested this was a requirement for these projects. The logo consists of the standard 12 gold stars in a circle on a blue background plus a reference to the European Union and to ERDF, plus the statement “Investing in your future”.

If this principle were extended to all funders, imagine the logos that would adorn the timesheet of a professor involved in multiple teaching and research programmes funded by a range of sponsors: Horizon 2020; Erasmus+; National Research Agencies A, B and C; the Doors Foundation; Megacorp Inc etc. And if the university used a standard timesheet system for all its staff, rather than ad hoc spreadsheets for each person, then presumably all bodies funding the organisation would need to feature somewhere. Just like a Formula 1 racing car!

Singleimage - H2020 Training Workshops and Advice

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Financial guarantees

In FP7, if an organisation had “weak” financial viability, they could not coordinate a consortium project. Financial viability was measured in terms such as liquidity, profitability and solvency. However, the EC would allow “weak” organisations to coordinate if they provided an irrevocable bank guarantee to cover the amount of the pre-financing for the consortium.

According to H2020 legislation, the financial capacity of an organisation can be guaranteed by any other legal entity which satisfies the EC’s financial viability checks – the same checks as in FP7. But in H2020, the entity providing the guarantee must assume joint liability for all – note “all” - debts of the would-be coordinator. Guarantees covering only its participation in EU project(s) cannot be accepted.

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Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Marie Sklodowska-Curie (MSC) simplification

Anyone who submitted a proposal to the recent MSC calls will have noticed a significant simplification in finances for ITNs (Innovative Training Networks) and RISE (Research and Innovation Staff Exchange) compared with FP7. All proposal budgets are made only in person months of researchers recruited or seconded. This simplification also applies to the reporting stage. The participating organisations report only the person months that have been spent, and the EC’s software converts this into euro.

As a consequence, there are no Certificates on the Financial Statements, no EU procurement rules to follow, and no financial checks or audits of the actual money spent for research expenses, for managing the project or for overheads. So where’s the catch? The management budget is shared between all consortium members, because the person months are shared between them. But the cost falls mainly on the coordinator. So the coordinator must negotiate with the other consortium members to keep part of their budgets – clearly a topic for a consortium agreement. In H2020, consortium agreements are generally compulsory, but not in MSC. Interesting.....

Singleimage - H2020 Training Workshops and Advice

Friday, 2 May 2014

H2020 Model Grant Agreement....... Heavy reading?

Anyone who has printed the H2020 model grant agreement will notice that it weighs much more than the FP7 version. The new agreement combines the FP7 grant agreement, annex II (general conditions) and special clauses (now presented as options within the main agreement). A comparison of the two agreements is shown in the table (it omits a number of annexes which are short or rarely used). Overall, the number of pages increases by 71%. Of course, the two agreements differ in font size and layout, so we added a comparison of the number of words. Sure enough, this gives a lower figure: an increase of only 41%. Is this what the EC meant when it promised simplification in H2020?

“Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.” Blaise Pascal, 1657.

Singleimage - FP7/H2020 Training Workshops and Advice

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

H2020: One way or another, I'm gonna find you, I'm gonna getcha getcha getcha getcha (sorry Blondie!)

The EC’s model grant agreement lists in its contents pages a total of 58 articles and 163 sub-articles. 43 of the articles (74%) include mention of the consequences of non-compliance. 55 of the sub-articles (34%) specifically address non-compliance. There are 10 articles and 22 sub-articles devoted to rejection of costs, reduction of grant, penalties and damages. So nobody should be surprised when the EC asks for money to be returned.  Is this how H2020 welcomes newcomers? One way or another....
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Friday, 7 February 2014

Productive time

As forecast last September, the H2020 grant agreement provides an option for calculating the hourly rate of personnel by dividing the annual cost of a person by 1720 hours per year (“productive hours”). This is quite a high figure, especially if working time is 7 or 7.5 hours per day, and can lead to under recovery of costs of 5-15%. Its advantage is that it will not be subject to audit.

Two alternatives to 1720 hours are offered. One is to calculate productive time for each person individually, which many organisations did in FP7. The other is to use the organisation’s own standard for productive hours. Here the EC has introduced a novel feature, called workable time, which equals 365 days minus weekends and minus holidays, personal and public. Standard productive hours must be no less than 90% of workable hours. These two methods can be audited by the EC.

Singleimage - FP7 & H2020 Training Workshops and Advice