Four steps to writing a winning Erasmus+ proposal
Competition rates for Erasmus+ grants are continuously rising and public funding application success rates in Europe remain quite low (approximately 11% of grant proposals in the Alliances for Innovation were funded in 2021). Though this competition ensures good quality and relevance of the proposed projects, many ground-breaking ideas do not pass the initial evaluation stage due to poor execution.
In our ‘How To’ session on January 18th, 2023, UIIN’s Manager of Research Projects Alexandra Zinovyeva, walked us through how to write a winning proposal for Key Action 2 of the Erasmus+ Program, ‘Cooperation Among Organisations and Institutions’. Couldn’t make the session? The key highlights are below.
What makes a winning proposal?
The Erasmus+ Program is part of the European Commission’s (EC) Horizon Europe framework, focusing on supporting innovation in the education sector, across primary, secondary, tertiary, vocational education, and lifelong learning. Key Action 2 of the program includes such funding calls as: partnerships for cooperation, for excellence, and for innovation; alliances for innovation; capacity building; and forward-looking initiatives. These proposals should demonstrate, and are evaluated on the following criteria:
- Quality of the project design and implementation
- Quality of partnership and cooperation
- Impact, dissemination, and sustainability of the project post-completion
Therefore, a winning proposal showcases a cohesive project with these interconnected elements. While a compelling intervention showcases “how” this can be done, a capable project consortium ensures that this intervention actually comes to life.
Shaping a convincing narrative
A focused view of your problem statement from the outset ensures your project has impactful, yet achievable, aims. For example, you can strengthen the overall problem statement by including the description of causes that aggravate your identified problem. Your proposed activities, in turn, support its solution. The urgency of the problem should also be highlighted. This can be demonstrated through forecast studies that support your claim from groups like the EC, OECD, World Bank, or by hypothesizing about future outcomes.
After the problem statement comes the ’Call for Action’ i.e., ’who needs to address this problem?’ Identify how other stakeholders can contribute to the solution and demonstrate that the problem is large enough that it requires interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral cooperation. Again, it is important to include reference to policies, EC white papers, and grey literature to support your claim.
Translating challenges to needs
Understanding the cause(s) of a problem concerns an understanding of both the challenges preventing us from solving it (what has been done already and why those previous efforts were insufficient), and the needs of different stakeholders to solve the problem. However, a “challenge” does not equal a “need”. A persuasive proposal requires a translation of the former, and clear communication to the latter . This is illustrated below using the example of the difficulty in bringing PhD research to the market:
- CHALLENGE = PhD students do not have enough time to attend entrepreneurship courses
- NEED = to create more flexible learning pathways for PhD students
A single project cannot solve every current societal issue, therefore it is important to be focused in analysing your challenges and needs. Only include those you consider most important and realistic to address, and do not elaborate on too many needs if you do not plan on later addressing them in your proposed project.
Creating a compelling intervention
A compelling intervention is a set of operationalised and tangible solutions to each need that you’ve identified in your narrative. Make sure the activities you include are both necessary and SMART (i.e., Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound).
Though project methodologies can take many different forms, what winning methodologies have in common is a strong grounding in evidence and a future-oriented view in terms of transferability. For example, by integrating the development of resources and their validation with relevant target groups within the scope of the project and sharing these results across different European contexts.
Visualisation of your methodology can also be a helpful tool to understand how these different activities interact. Though the budget will vary depending on the size of the project, it is useful to estimate this early on by considering how much time it would take you to deliver one output (in number of days/months) and determine if the proposed activity is achievable with the available budget.
- A helpful system for developing your project methodology is a logical framework matrix. Identify the NEED
- Identify the INPUT and resources required
- Create an ACTIVITY that can help bridge that need
- Understand the project’s tangible OUTPUT
- Understand the OUTCOME – who this activity will help in the short-term and
- Recognise who this activity will help in the long-term, i.e., IMPACT
A capable consortium
Be clear in your composition and description of the project’s consortium. Ensure you demonstrate the expertise for your activities and showcase any relevant partner success stories. Furthermore, illustrate that there are synergies across partners and clear motivation for each to be part of the consortium. A balanced mix of stakeholders is important, but quality of partner is more valuable than a large consortium.
Summary of key learnings
- Focus on the urgency of the problem and identify a specific call to action.
- Describe the challenges that prevent the problem from being solved as well as the specific needs of the target groups.
- Be selective in the elaboration of these needs and ensure that each need you highlight is matched with an action to address it.
- Ensure your methodology is coherent and consistent, and make sure each work package is connected.
- Ensure your activities, interventions and solutions all serve a purpose and have quantifiable and realistic outputs.
- Visualise your project methodology.
- Be selective and targeted about your consortium composition – the quality and relevance of expertise trumps the quantity of consortium partners.
- See proposal development as a project and treat it as such, with appropriate planning and co-creation throughout.
Interested in more insights like this? Have a read of Six Dimensions of Readiness: What Universities Need to Engage and Collaborate and Re-designing a Learner-Oriented University with Dr. Cameron McCoy.
Alexandra Zinovyeva (author) is a higher education specialist and Manager, Research Projects at UIIN, where she oversees and undertakes research activities in a wide array of the European-wide collaborative projects.
Madeline Arkins (author) is a Project Officer at UIIN. In her work she focuses on topics relating to social impact and innovation in regional ecosystems.