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How to build a successful consortium for large research projects

August 11 2016

With the Olympic Games in Rio in full swing, it is a good time to reflect on your strategy for funding. We view grant writing as professional sports. To become and remain successful, you need to train hard in order to remain at the top of your highly competitive field. You will only realise your goals if you understand what is necessary to succeed in highly competitive programmes such as Horizon 2020 and continuously improve your writing skills. Today we will discuss how to build a winning research consortium.

To successfully address Europe’s research and innovation challenges, researchers are increasingly required to collaborate in consortia with partners from different backgrounds. You need to develop a competitive consortium that brings together an international network of key opinion leaders, innovative companies and other important stakeholders such as patient organisations and health insurers. Do not just tick the boxes here, but make sure that each partner brings something to the table. Based on our experience in developing grant proposals for Horizon 2020, we have summarised some essential tips to take into account when composing your consortium.

Think about your end goal

Before you start contacting partners, sit down and think about what you want to achieve and which expertise you need to get there. As a project coordinator you should streamline the process. Do not be afraid to take charge and show leadership when decisions need to be made. Establish a core grant writing team with people you trust, who will focus on developing the scientific ideas with you.

Make sure each partner adds value to the consortium and make strategic decisions: do not include your friends only because they are your friends. Focus on excellence, does your prospective partner represent the top of his/her field? Importantly, involve people that you work well with, as the typical Horizon 2020 grant represents a multi-year relationship. Include partners that are well known throughout Europe, but also give opportunity to the younger generation of high-potential researchers. This will show that your project can catapult careers. Also read the call text carefully, what does the EU expect? For example, include European SMEs to show your project can increase growth and competitiveness of the European biotech industry.

Start by identifying important stakeholders

Collaborations with industry give viability to your exploitation plan, ensuring that innovations can truly reach the market. Especially SMEs with innovative techniques bring great value, but also large players can bring your project to a higher level.

Patient organisations can offer the patient’s perspective and access to patients for clinical trials. Moreover, their communication channels can come in handy for dissemination activities. Make sure to not just include the patient organisation in the participant list, but also include them in your work plan. Develop a communication plan in which outreach to patients and their caregivers is key.

Input from health professionals can be essential in gaining market acceptance and defining the best possible strategy for clinical development. Clinicians can be included in your consortium, but can also contribute to the project through dedicated communication measures directed at existing networks.

Build on existing partnerships, but do not rely on them

Research co-funded by NWO Veni for example, indicates that involving different types of partners leads to more innovation. However, surprisingly, multiple ongoing collaborations at the same time appear to be counterproductive. Although previous and ongoing (successful) collaborations can be used to showcase the strength of your consortium and mitigate risks associated with the project, think about branching out to new partners. Make sure that you develop a consortium that can operate independently of other initiatives.

Start on time

Especially with competitive calls, you want to prevent being too late to snatch up that one expert in a specific field. Chances are he/she will already be involved in a different proposal by the time you establish first contact. Have you ever considered developing a consortium before the call text is even published? This will allow you to bring together the best people to reach a certain goal, irrespective of the currently available funding options. An already functioning network with an aligned vision has a much easier time submitting proposals when the calls come, and already carry the credibility of a working infrastructure.

Establish a solid project management structure

Successful consortia have a sound non-scientific management framework to ensure the project runs according to plan and allows the scientists to focus on the science. Including a project management partner with demonstrated expertise will convince reviewers that you will be able to meet deadlines within the available budget.  

Did you know that ttopstart has extensive experience in building winning research consortia, especially for competitive Horizon 2020 projects? We are happy to share our knowledge with you and show how to identify, contact and bring together consortium members for a strong collaboration. We can help you find and convince key partners, leveraging our broad network in life sciences and medical technology. Contact us to learn more!

Further reading on Funding strategy

Why having a strategy in place for grant writing can boost funding success

What highly-effective research groups do differently to raise one subsidy after another

Does the website of your research group work for or against you?

 

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Karlijn Bastiaansen, PhD