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Networks of excellence in IST Priority

Frequently asked questions (version 2.0; 12 January 2005)

All the documents referred to here are obtained by following links from the IST web site at /ist/

There is a general set of FAQs for proposers to IST call 4. There are also specific FAQs concerning Integrated projects .

Standard Disclaimer
These Frequently Asked Questions does not supersede the rules and conditions laid out, in particular, in Council and Parliament Decisions relevant to the Sixth Framework Programme, the IST Priority, the Model contract, Call for proposals or the Evaluation Guidelines. They are provided as a help to specific questions and present only the current view of the Information desk of the IST programme of the Directorate-General for Information Society of the European Commission. Readers should not regard these views as a statement of the official position of the European Commission.

In what way does a Network of excellence differ from the Concerted actions/Thematic networks you funded in the past ?
Our previous the Concerted actions/Thematic networks funded the coordination of the activities of specific research and development projects for a particular purpose over a pre-determined period of time. (And indeed such an activity can still be foreseen in the IST Priority, as a "Coordination actions"). But an NoE contract is intended to fund the restructuring of a whole research sector, so that the sector works more efficiently, shares resources and eliminates duplication of activities, and it is intended it should do this on a permanent basis.

Proposers intending to coordinate networks in a looser way without the ambition of far-reaching organisational change and durable integration should consider making a Coordination action proposal.

Is a large NoE with lots of partners better than a small one ?
The objective of far-reaching and durable integration requires serious and long-lasting commitment from all participants. It is the depth of integration to be achieved which is the decisive criterion, not the size of the network.

We have found the optimum consortium is around 6-12 partners. If it is a very small number it is difficult to see how they could have the weight to make a significant restructuring of their whole research sector. Equally it is unlikely that the difficult change processes could be achieved in very big networks with many partners who would have varying levels of commitment to the goal of integration.

Once it is formed, what does an NoE actually do ?
An NoE does three main things.

  • It coordinates and integrates the activities of the members of the network, arranging for the sharing of resources between them and the cutting out of duplication.
  • It carries out specific research and development tasks defined in the Joint Programme of Activities (JPA) which it included in its proposal.
  • It carries out activities to spread excellence, for example training of researchers and other key staff, and dissemination and technology transfer to industry.

And how long should an NoE last ?
Perhaps 4-5 years of financial support by the Commission would be typical. But remember, the NoE is supposed to represent a permanent restructuring of your research sector. It is expected that it will remain in place and functioning after Commission funding has ceased.

How much funding does the commission foresee for an NoE ?
It depends on the size of the NoE. There is a formula to calculate the maximum grant possible which is based on the number of researchers (and PhD students) involved, which is given in the notes to the application forms included in the Guide for proposers.

Is that the amount of grant we should ask for ?
Not necessarily. If you envisage spending less than the maximum possible, you should ask for less. If your proposal is successful in the evaluation your funding request will be examined in detail in the contract negotiation phase.

So how much funding does the Commission usually foresee for an NoE ?
We have seen NoEs typically in the range of €4-15m of Commission funding. The average so far has been around €7m.

What is the definition of a "researcher" for the purpose of calculating the funding ?
This means a research staff member with a doctoral degree, or alternatively with at least four years of research experience, employed by or working under the direct management authority of an organisation participating in the network.

Can such a researcher be working on other projects too, as well as the network activities foreseen in the contract with the Commission ?
Yes. If the researcher appears on the list of names which is used to calculate the Commission funding, he/she can be involved in other activities too, but must be clearly involved in the network activities, and this involvement must be auditable if necessary.

Is Commission funding divided among the participants according to the number of researchers each one contributes to the network ?
No, you can divide it in any way which is agreeable to you and your partners.

The funding is defined as a "grant for integration". What activities can we spend it on ?
You spend it on any activities associated with the integration of the network, the Joint Programme of Activities or the spreading of excellence, and of course consortium management activities.

How do you monitor our spending ?
At the end of each year, the participants in your network will have to make cost claims, an annual activity report and an activity plan for the next 18 months. Your cost claims will have to be supported by a certificate from an independent auditor certifying that these were genuine expenditures. Your annual activity report will be scrutinised in a technical audit conducted by independent experts employed by the Commission, who must be satisfied that your activities and expenditures have indeed been directed towards the integration of the network, the JPA and the spreading of excellence in your sector. The same experts must also be satisfied that your future plan is a viable and well-directed extension of these activities.

Can new partners join an NoE after it has started ?
Yes. There are two possibilities. You can plan from the beginning "incremental" participation, in which a new partner at present unidentified will join the project at a later stage to carry out some particular task or tasks which you define in your contract negotiations with the Commission. When the time comes the selection of the partner to fulfil this role will be organised by you, following a standard procedure of an open competitive call for proposals imposed by the Commission.

The second, more simple, possibility is that you yourself find an organisation which wishes to participate in your network and integrate its activities with yours. If your Commission Project officer agrees with you that this would be a positive contribution to the goals of the network he can arrange a contract amendment to include the new partner.

Is the project funding increased if a new partner joins ?
There is no automatic increase in funding to cover new partners (an increase in funding can only arise if the network is successful in another call for proposals). But by the same token, there would be no automatic decrease in funding if a partner leaves. Your maximum funding level is fixed by contract, once and for all, at the beginning of the project.

If there is no extra money, why should we want to expand the network ?
One of the main goals of an NoE is to spread excellence throughout its research sector; incorporating new partners is the most obvious way to do this and gives a positive achievement for the network to show at its annual review. Also organisations sometimes find as the project goes on that they have overestimated the amount of funding they can really invest in integration activities, so introducing new partners allows you to better exploit the grant we have made available to you.

As an NoE is intended to be significant in its research sector, it might possibly be covering some of the same ground as some other NoE proposal in the same sector. Could two such networks foresee working together in some way ?
Yes. If the evaluators see two or more good NoE proposals covering similar ground, they may recommend that the networks be managed together by the Commission, as a "cluster". In this case they would probably make recommendations about avoiding a duplication of focus between the networks. They could even propose that two proposals merge, to form a single larger network, though of course this merger decision would always lie in the hands of the proposers concerned - it would be a recommendation, not a condition for getting a contract.

The proposal format (Part B) for an NoE ask for a lot of information about regulatory and ethical matters, gender equality, socio-economic impact….. You never asked about such things before.
NoEs are not simple pieces of research like before. They should have a much wider impact and much wider implications. So these issues have to be addressed also in your proposal. And don't neglect them, or treat them in a superficial fashion. Remember that a call of proposals is simply a competition of one proposal against another, and a comprehensive review of relevant regulation, a well-thought-out gender equality plan or a clear appreciation of the social issues involved may make all the difference between two proposals which are otherwise equal on research and technological considerations.

If we make an NoE proposal, and the Commission considers it might fit in better, or have a better chance, if evaluated as a Coordination action, will you change it in the evaluation ?
No. The structure of a proposal is different for the different instrument types, so there would be many difficulties in carrying out an evaluation of a proposal of one type as if it were a proposal of another type. Also, it would be very unfair on the others for the Commission to intervene in favour of a particular proposer.

So what makes a successful Network of excellence proposal ?
Your research sector in Europe is fragmented and would gain in excellence by re-structuring. All the participants in the network intend to undertake a major effort to re-structure and re-organise the way research in their sector is carried out, and to establish a durable integration of their research capacities.

When you say "Europe", do you mean the European Union ?
No. The participation of excellent research centres elsewhere in Europe is welcomed. Our integration goal encompasses the whole European Research Area, not just the EU.

How can I find out more about Networks of excellence ?
Read the information given at /fp6/instrument-noe/

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