F3. Create funding structures that are sensitive to CSO needs
One frequently repeated concern voiced by CSOs was that existing funding structures do not cater for CSO needs. Many CSOs are relatively small and have very limited funds as they rely on the contribution of their members. They often lack the financial accounting capabilities required for large and bureaucratic research projects such as those required by the EU but also by many national funding regimes.
A number of detailed suggestions were made in order to overcome these problems, many specific to European funding rules. These included:
There should be enough funding available for the CSOs to play the expected role
CSOs should not be obliged to contribute their own core funding to a project, because the necessary money is often not available for CSOs
Even if CSOs play a vital role in a project they should be eligible to be a subcontractor in order to reduce the bureaucratic barriers
Funding schemes should be consistent and reliable
Funders could provide seed funding to start up collaborations prior to a larger-scale funding call
Bureaucratic requirements linked to funding should be reduced and streamlined
One proposal involves having open calls specifically aimed at societal issues not covered by existing work programmes. An analogy at the European level is the European Research Council which does not have a work programme but uses scientific excellence as its sole evaluation criterion. A similar institution using societal impact as its main evaluation criterion could play the role of opening up research to societal needs driven by CSOs.
Funders who are considering encouraging the involvement of CSOs in research projects should consider:
Have CSOs helped shape the research agenda relating to the call, including the phrasing of the call document itself? If not how could their involvement be further encouraged to ensure that their needs are taken into account?
Is there clear guidance on the appropriate distribution of funds and role of the CSO partners?
Is sufficient emphasis placed within the call on allowing time (and resource) for team development and building trust between consortium members, especially CSOs and researchers?
Example: Avoiding tensions by recognising CSOs' funding needs and expertise
CSOs can feel alienated from research when funding structures seem to be insensitive to CSOs' needs. One project we investigated included the involvement of CSOs within most parts of the project. In particular they gave feedback on project progress at regular intervals, and provided access to representatives of end-users and the patients themselves for testing the technology being developed. However, of the total financial allocation, the CSOs involved only received a small fraction of the budget which did not sit well with them. In addition, they felt they were not being seen as equal and influential contributors to the research by the researchers because they had no specific work package responsibilities. Their perception was that a more even funding and responsibility structure was necessary, which would put them on an equal or near enough equal footing with the researchers.
'It’d be easier to cut down on the bureaucracy and this whole invoicing and things, it’s just no sense. Keep it fairly simple because we’re dealing with simple organisations. I think the structure of it needs to reflect the people you are dealing with'. (CSO Representative)