Projects – what else?
Since its very beginning some 20 years ago, “projects” are the main way to implement European Research Programmes. This seems such an obvious “fact of life”, that there is hardly any debate on the pros and cons of this approach – and on possible other options. This text is intended to provide some first reflections – but unfortunately no definite replies yet …
Who thinks of European Research Programmes, thinks of research projects. The annual calls and subsequent proposal evaluations are a central part of the young tradition of European Research Funding over the last two decades or so. The number of projects supported is impressive – in 2013, some xxx were up and running under FP7. A closer look at these reveals that behind the uniform legal denomination hides a wide variety of real activities. For FP7 one might actually broadly distinguish funding for people (like in Marie Curie Actions, ERC Grants) and funding for “real” projects in the sense of supporting (mostly cooperative) temporary research efforts.
What is to some extent amazing is the fact that project funding dominates European Research Policy from its very beginning until today. In light of the manifold changes which occurred in this policy domain, it is puzzling that the central implementation tool stayed basically the same. There seem to be two possible explanations for this:
There is a rather universal consensus that indeed projects are an excellent tool for research funding, and there are many arguments for this, notably:
These are without any doubt very strong arguments which explain why there is no real debate on this issue.
Yet, the nature and ambition of European Research Policy has been changing over time, and some new features might add some question marks:
Research Projects do an excellent job and are irreplaceable as backbone of the European Framework Programme. There are, however, arguments to reflect more than in the past on complementary tools to address notably some of the limitations mentioned above. The fact that over the past decades not many of such alternative ideas have come to fruition might be an indicator that this is not an easy task. In this sense the following ideas should be seen as possible orientations for further reflections – and not as ready-made suggestions or solutions:
Version 1.0 - 22.03.2014 - Thanks for your feedback