Background to our work on ERC projects

We get asked often where this every long standing and extensive line of work on ERC proposals comes from and so it seems helpful 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 follow entries here over the coming months as the ideas 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.