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26 Feb / What it means to be a Horizon 2020 Project Coordinator

According to formal European Commission (EC) guidelines, a Horizon 2020 project proposal must appoint a consortium beneficiary to serve as the central contact point and represent the consortium towards the EC, also known as the ‘Coordinator’[1]. Correspondingly, the coordinator’s budget includes a designated share for project management activities.

The natural process of Horizon 2020 project development includes the initiation and framing of the scientific outline, formulating a solid consortium, leading the proposal writing efforts, including the division of work and allocation of tasks, as well as dictating a budget share to each partner, consolidate the administrative sections of the proposal – such as ethical issues and partners profiles – and the actual submission of the complete proposal.

It is common that the initiator of the project proposal is usually and almost automatically becomes the project’s coordinator, however, in many cases it stems from an inertial force of habit and while ignoring the potential implications that it might have on the project’s implementation.

The Coordinator’s responsibilities

Once the project is retained for funding, the coordinator is required to initiate and manage the processes of signing the grant agreement (GA) with the EC, and of the consortium agreement (CA) between the partners. After these are settled, it is time for the coordinator to lead and launch the project execution with the other beneficiaries. During the project’s life time, and in addition to the scientific tasks that the coordinator may have as a consortium partner, there is a line of mandatory responsibilities that the coordinator is obligated to perform, for example –

  • Act as the intermediary for all communications between the beneficiaries and the EC
  • Monitor and control the project’s work plan and that the action is implemented properly
  • Arrange  consortium meetings and subsequent reporting
  • Implement quality procedures for the project
  • Gather, monitor and consolidate scientific and technical content of periodical reports
  • Prepare, manage and coordinate project’s financial checks
  • Administration of project resources including budget-related issues
  • Financial management including distribution of payments to the beneficiaries
  • Facilitate communication within the consortium on administrative matters
  • Handle outstanding administrative issues like contract amendments
  • Consolidate project’s deliverables and reports and maintain Quality Assurance including submission to the EC
  • Provision of a project management electronic platform
  • and more

In many cases, the formed collaborations within a Horizon 2020 project are new, and so the coordinator must act as the communication facilitator of the consortium partners, usually located in different countries and may have other projects and obligations in mind, in order to form and engage a fruitful collaborative work.

While many coordinators coming from the academia choose to focus their attention on implementing their scientific tasks, the ongoing management of administrative and financial issues of the project are at risk of being neglected or minimised, in some cases up to the point of affecting its smooth execution. This dimension is evident also in the case of industrial coordinators, often new to Horizon 2020, or with little experience in coordinating Horizon 2020 projects.

In order to achieve the planned goals, the attention, cooperation and contribution of all involved partners is essential, and so the coordinator must be constantly active and keep a fluent and open communication channel between all parties while closely monitoring the project’s progress in order to ensure its smooth implementation.

Having said that, it is made clear that appointing a project coordinator requires a well thought strategic planning, in order to maximise the project’s resources, both of time and money. The coordinator has many roles, on top of being the executive administrative and financial manager. Researchers or scientists interested in scientific leadership, without having to deal with the administrative aspects of the coordination, can opt for having a professional coordinator on board. Read more on this topic in the “Horizon 2020 Coordination dilemma” article.

Professional Coordinator

The distribution of roles between Administration/Finance and Science/Technology should be clarified from the start in the management strategy, and clearly explained in the submitted proposal. However, this division does not mean a ‘clear cut’. It is imperative that the professional coordinator will understand the science on one hand, and have excellent administrative and financial management skills on the other hand, while cooperating and supporting the scientific coordinator.

Understanding the scientific process and the challenges, both inherent and unexpected ones, it what makes the difference between a ‘good’ project management and an ‘excellent’ project management. The professional coordinator should not be confined to the administrative and financial issues only, but rather involved in all aspects and process of the project to ensure its success. That way, the professional coordinator can provide a complete support system to the scientific leader and the research and innovation activities being performed.

That way the professional coordinator allows the scientific leader to focus on the science and research activities, a time consuming and challenging task as it is, while clearing the way from non-scientific obstacles. This process enables the project to be focused and efficient, and thus deliver better results.

 

[1] AGA, p. 15

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By Sharon Alon in Post-award