A unique offer

There are few, if any, consultants with a substantial body of knowledge and experience in this area – this might simply be that we have been too busy doing it to find out, of course.  However, colleagues in related areas of project development often won’t try to advise at a fine level of detail on ERC projects for a wide range reasons and not all that many have been asked to do so.  So, our experience here is rare.

Also, we don’t apply a general solution to all projects or advise only on matters of conformity or eligibility or of the cv but actually delve into the depths of the work in close dialogue with the researcher to draw out the best ideas for this programme and fit them into a winning logic and rhetoric.  Our only focus is on winning and we work backwards from there to deliver a customised and one-off response to the particular problems of each proposal and, so, at times the process can be quite demanding of time and effort (on both sides).  We will keep unpicking and rebuilding the work until it is in the best shape it can be as we know that it will face a very tough test when it sits in front of the evaluators – in fact, probably, the toughest assessment of any EC programme.

This blog focuses on ERC work as I have been asked to do so much of it and the ideas around writing for the ERC seemed interesting and quite complex and worth capturing and exploring and publishing.  I’d like to draw attention to the fact that this is only one line of work that we do – we are very active in writing proposals across all areas of EC funding – in all parts of H2020 and beyond for example and would be very happy to discuss possible collaborations on the wider topic of proposal development.  We are also very experienced project planners and managers and have an excellent track record in policy studies and evaluations – please don’t hesitate to get in contact to discuss any aspect of our work beyond that discussed in this blog.

Here at the start it seems appropriate to set the scene a little better and explain one or two things about the background to this body of work. This line of business has grown out of the work I did on international projects while I was employed in the Generalitat de Catalunya (the government of Catalonia, Spain) in Barcelona.

Working at the Generalitat I found that people would regularly ask how to present their ideas to stand the best chance of getting funding and I’d happily offer an opinion and show them what I thought a strong and logical presentation should be like. I’d given this some thought over the years I had been working in consulting companies where winning work was the basic survival skill.

I combined my recommendations with a very detailed understanding of how European Commission programmes work and the kind of argument you need to create in each context to put a (very rare) smile on the exhausted evaluator’s face and help prise open the lid of the coffer and it seemed to have an immediate impact.

Very quickly one or two projects that the teams involved thought were very long shots were funded much to everyone’s surprise and pleasure and very positive work of mouth soon spread and requests for consultancy in this area grew and have been a steady stream since then.

And so, with that introduction over and, perhaps, with appetites whetted and interests sufficiently piqued I hope that the reader will read widely among the posts as the ideas continue to unfold. I promise at least that you will be given some food for thought and some pointers on how to avoid some of the commonest mistakes. I’ll also attempt to get across some clear ideas about what competitive writing in this niche area looks like, how it functions in detail and some suggestions about how to put together a dynamic and competitive submission.

In the earliest posts I started this blog by setting out the very basic things that I have encountered repeatedly over the years and which I tend to use as the groundwork whenever working with new of researchers aiming at the ERC programmes. I hope that these are interesting in and of themselves and that, should we ever work together on an assignment, we’ll already be some way to sharing a set of assumptions about how proposals work in this very particular corner of the funding universe.

Over the year or so that I have been writing this I think the groundwork for good writing has been covered thoroughly and in recent months I have tried to move on to providing the reader with some real substance and detail about how to do the really difficult and critical work at the core of the proposal – I think there is a vast amount of information here now if you read it carefully enough.  The topics are quite complex and some of the posts quite long and they need to be to diagnose the problems at hand and offer some detailed advice about dealing with them.  Hopefully each post repays the attention it demands and I aim to end up in each one with very simple and practical recommendations on how to do each task.

In fact, I read the blog myself to remind me of the detail of many of the issues it contains before a training event, for example – it is  a really good repository of experience and expertise that has applications well beyond writing for the ERC.

The cv plays a critical part in any successful bid, of course, and we do look at these in detail to make sure they are presented in the best light and address the assessment criteria that will be brought to bear upon them during the evaluation. However, guidance for the cv is much clearer than for the text parts of the B1 and 2 and there is much less that can be done to create a persuasive argument as it is a long process to turn around an unpromising cv. Therefore, in practice, most of our work is done in the B1 description of the project and in the B2 text which is based upon it.

I should, of course, add although it goes without saying really that the views expressed here are entirely my own and based solely on my work with researchers since the start of these programmes and by seeing what kind of work wins and what kind of work tends not to. I have worked with and spoken to a number of ERC officers over the years about what they are looking for in proposals but don’t have any links with the organisation and depend entirely on adding value to clients’ portfolios of ERC work to make sure they keep coming back to ask me for more reviews and training.