Objectives: you can also think FINER

As a very quick follow on to another post on writing objectives SMARTly I will look very quickly at the FINER criteria which are also a very good set ideas for thinking of and testing project objectives when writing an ERC proposal.  Other aspects are covered in discussions of writing backwards and making sure that we are making promises about something new in a very strong sense.

Feasibility – in the sense of practical, implementation issues this probably comes last in the ERC proposal structure.  But it is necessary to consider from the very early moments of the proposal writing just how the research will be performed.  You’ll have to be able to show at the right moment in the text exactly how the objectives of the proposal can be reached in the specific research environment you’ll be working in and with the budget allowed and with the time you have decided it will take.  You have to be very convincing when describing your own research profile to make sure that the links between what you have done and can do and what you are promising are very clear indeed. Even in the B1 they want to be able to make sure that there is a viable project here and so you should be providing them with a sketch of the whole job in outline so that they can pretty much buy it off that outline plan.  Too many proposals  don’t complete this job and it is not easy to do it in the space allowed in B1, but necessary.

Interesting – Up the logic of the ERC proposal to the first sections on state-of-the-art and objectives the question of why the work is interesting is of paramount importance in creating a winning argument.  We are focusing on the key ‘why’ questions here, why it matters, why it is urgent for the researcher, her colleagues, wider peer group and eventual end users of the research that these objectives are reached right now. Set out why the gap in the state-of-the-art needs to be filled.  Move away from describing the ‘what’ issues where so many researchers spend too much time setting out their methods and activities as if this were in itself interesting and get onto the ‘why’ questions which demonstrate the importance of the work and make a difference when selling the job.

Novel – this is also fundamental to the basic, risky research that the ERC are hoping to buy.  It really is the kiss of death to a proposal if there is any suspicion that the work has been done before or is about to be done already – the evaluators generally know the field like the back of their hands and are proud of this and will show this knowledge off when reviewing proposals they grow suspicious of or candidates who arrive at interview with any chinks in their armour.  The state-of-the-art shows the gaps and needs to be very detailed and comprehensive.  The objectives grow out of these gaps and if done well and argued persuasively their novelty should be clear – better make sure that it is!  And don’t forget the novelty in the methods and approaches – they ask you to highlight that.  It is not always possible to say very much about the methods in this regard, often they are not terribly innovative.  But find a way of arguing that they are and make a song and dance about it somewhere.

Ethical – well, of course, researchers whose research has ethical aspects to it know how to comply with all relevant regulation and legislation and get the right approvals etc. etc. – in fact, I have never seen a problem arising in ERC proposals with this aspect and they are hoops that everyone who has to knows how to jump through well.

Relevant – make sure the work is relevant to the ERC calls i.e., that it is basic, researcher-driven, ground breaking, frontier opening stuff that fits in well with the philosophy of the funding institution which is quite different from any other EU funder.  You can go back to my earliest posts in this blog to see how to make sure that the proposal conforms to both the letter and spirit of the game you are playing here as you can’t change or questions the rules of the game.  And of course, the objectives need to be relevant in all the other senses that we have looked at in detail elsewhere.  Basically, you need to make clear that the project addresses something that is urgent and will have impacts enough to persuade the keepers of the cash to open the coffers and dispense with largesse.  A proposal has no other function whatsoever.  So, keep it focused on a question that can’t be missed and make them an offer they can’t refuse.

I am sure there are other helpful acronyms and will try to remember them.