R4. Agree on project management principles

Within the case studies explored within CONSIDER there were a series of common factors related to project management processes which predicted a successful outcome in terms of the CSO involvement in the research. Here we summarise the main project management principles which should be agreed within the consortium at the start of a project in order to ensure success.

Consortium management

In FP7 research projects there are two different management levels: first the consortium and its rules, and second the structure of the work packages. The project leader might be either a researcher or a CSO member. He or she might drive the project and, if named as Project Coordinator, be responsible for the project towards the European Commission. The consortium has to set up rules dealing with decision making, conflict resolution mechanisms, evaluation, ethics, publications, etc… From our research a clear tasks division between partners seems to be an important asset in successful projects. The structure of the work packages should reflect the way the project is managed.

The consortium communications processes should be designed to facilitate trustful relationships. A particularly important element within European projects is that language barriers may mean that it is necessary to pay extra attention to definitions of key terms and provide an opportunity to discuss explanations of each others' expectations and skills. To enhance this process over the course of the project, one consortium member (or a group of people) may be allocated the explicit task of linking and mediating between researchers and CSOs, ensuring that both groups are fully involved at all stages.

The consortium management structure should be designed in order to support timely and effective communication and collaboration between members. This may include adapting and reorganising the work packages in order to create synergies and links between different partners. In particular, face to face meeting have proven to be necessary to strengthen relationships and to favour collaboration processes. According to the evidence from CONSIDER, social events (project dinners, cultural visits etc.) are highly useful tools in avoiding conflicts.

Rules for third parties

Careful consideration should be made when deciding whether a CSO partner is involved as a full consortium member or a third party. Entities providing external support are called “third parties” because they do not sign the Grant Agreement. The evidence from CONSIDER has demonstrated that CSOs are in a better position to contribute when they are consortium partners, but that in specific circumstances it is easier for them to be a subcontractor, for example because of issues relating to budget thresholds. Nevertheless, it is still important to justify such involvement within the proposal, and to clarify and communicate the reasons for CSO involvement regardless of their contractual status. Rules for third parties should then be incorporated into the Grant Agreement.

Publication rules and Intellectual Property

As beneficiaries within the project team CSOs have an interest in the publication of results and any potential intellectual property that is produced from the research collaboration. Results normally belong to the beneficiary that produced them, however joint ownership might be an easy and appropriate solution when cooperating with non-profit organisations. To make it easier to negotiate a joint ownership agreement, the consortium members are advised to include general principles on joint ownership in the consortium agreement. Establishing clear publication rules at the start of the project regarding who and under which conditions partners can publish the results will prevent major problems from arising later in the project.

Conflict resolution mechanism

Instating guiding principles about conflicts of interest, equity of partners and so on at the start of the project is likely to help manage and support the resolution of potential problems should they arise during the project. For example the grant agreement might contain management principles and bodies (steering committee, scientific committee, etc.) that include decision making process and a clear conflict resolution mechanism.

Guiding Questions

When setting up the management structure for a new research project the consortium members should consider questions such as:

  • Do you need a simple majority or unanimity to take a decision?

  • Are third parties (if present within the project), able to vote in consortium matters?

  • How do work package leaders report to the Project Coordinator?

  • How can the communications be designed to maximise the development of trust and mutual understanding between partners?

  • Do the benefits outweigh the costs of involving CSOs as a consortium member / third party?

  • What are the main indicators for success that will allow the project team to evaluate progress and confirm that the project results have been delivered? (see quality insurance plan for instance)

Example: The challenges of being a small organisation with little experience of EU research within a large and successful project

Despite the project being overall well managed and resulting in successful findings, a small NGO encountered key difficulties in fully participating in the research process within a large-scale collaborative programme involving more than 25 organisations. There were three key barriers that were identified:

  • The management structure and project organisation meant that the CSO representatives were not always able to be available at exactly the right moment, nor for sufficient time. They were solicited and took part in the writing of the project, but the time dedicated to such tasks in their organisation wasn’t enough for them to have a real impact on the design of the project as they would have liked.

  • Being new to European projects, the FP7 vocabulary commonly used by the other partners was confusing and put them on the fringes of crucial discussions. The project was their first experience of a European project and they were not very comfortable with specific vocabulary such as 'deliverable', 'milestones', 'work package', etc.

  • More generally, the language used within consortium discussions was never questioned as it was assumed that each European partner spoke fluent English. This was not always the case for the CSO staff and restricted the participation of certain individuals.

'We were really involved, even before the project existed, so what is embarrassing for us within the project is the language - neither X speaks English, nor myself, almost nobody within the association speaks in English and all the documents are in English' (CSO representative).