The core research work of the Framework Programmes is undertaken
by projects that are structured as a collaboration between a group
of partners who share tasks and responsibilities. This means that
finding the right partners and setting up the collaboration or consortium
is a key preparatory task. Partners need to be complementary to
each other, but they must share an interest in the common problem
that they are going to tackle in their research. Moreover, the consortium
has to establish management structures and procedures adapted to
the type and the complexity of the project. This will also be an
important criterion in the evaluation of proposals.
Under FP6 all participants forming the consortium
are entering into a contract with the Commission. Before this contract
can be signed the consortium agreement should be in place. See the
checklist for information on this.
It is best if the partners in a project are well
known to each other and have worked together previously. However,
this is not always possible, especially when seeking complementary
skills and expertise. Your profile can be published on the CORDIS
Partners service, which will advertise the fact that you are looking
for a partner. Searches can be made of the existing profiles to
see if there is someone already looking for your type of organisation
for their project, or is willing to join your project. It is also
possible to search for previous Framework Programme projects
to see who are the experienced actors. Other sources are your local
National Contact Point (NCP) for the subject area you are interested
in, your local Innovation Relay Centre (IRC) or Euro Info Centre
(EIC). Another possibility is to look on CORDIS at the Expressions
of Interest database or at the database of projects funded by previous
Framework Programmes. The Commission often runs information days
for specific parts of the Framework Programme and these can introduce
you to partners among the delegates as well as being useful in their
Diversity and complementarity
One of Europes greatest assets is its rich cultural diversity. Projects that bring together researchers from very different parts of Europe can take advantage of the different perspectives and the range of skills that are potentially available. In addition, partners who are concerned with complementary
aspects of the research will make a stronger consortium than partners who are too similar and may even find themselves competing. Diversity up and down the supply chain will help to ensure that the necessary enabling technologies are available and that the results of the research are taken forward into
application. This last aspect is a very important factor in demonstrating a consortium that can do more than produce good science. By selecting partners from research and industry it will help to bridge the gap between these cultures and smooth the way from research to exploitation. Partners from different
research or industry sectors might further help to broaden the project and achieve critical mass.
At the same time, cultural differences can also be an obstacle if partners fail to understand them and allow for them. Good communication, clear agreement, and careful joint planning are essential if diverse partners are to work together in a coordinated way. No single culture is the right one and
ways have to be found to accommodate diversity and to work with it to achieve the benefits.
Other than the minimum number of transnational partners there is no set prescription for what makes a good consortium and no advantage to be gained by having a certain number of partners or types of partner. What matters is that the partnership is the right type and size to achieve the project objectives.
In particular under FP6 IPs and NoEs there is the need to ensure a critical mass so that the research and the integration has momentum and a lasting effect.
As an FP6 project will be a major commitment with financial and legal implications it is important to ensure that all the project partners have a clear understanding of the nature of the collaboration and are fully committed to it. For the project itself, this understanding will be covered by the Consortium
Agreement which is a legally binding agreement that sits alongside the consortiums contract with the Commission.
In the early stages of formulating a collaborative consortium the Consortium Agreement has not yet been formed. However, it is often the case that teaming agreements are made. These cover aspects such as confidentiality, non-competition, background IPR etc. in order that the prospective partners
have some basic rules for their early stage interactions. There are no EU rules for teaming agreements. Clearly they should not conflict with the eventual Consortium Agreement and Commission contract, but they can be made to cover any of the risks and fears of the partners in the early tentative stages
of consortium building.
Between the partners
To fix the conditions and modalities of co-operation between partners,
the conclusion of a consortium agreement is obligatory for most
of the actions (in particular for Networks of Excellence and Integrated
Projects). The European Commission will not be a party within this
agreement and will not have to give its approval to it. It will
however provide a checklist with points potentially to be covered
by a consortium
Between the Commission and the partners
For proposals selected for funding, the European Commission will
conclude a contract establishing rights and obligations of all participants.
This concerns in particular provisions for the scientific, technological
and financial monitoring, for the updating of objectives, changes
in consortium membership, payment of the Community financial contribution
and rules for dissemination and use of knowledge. The contract
will be concluded between the European Commission and all participants.
The partners in a consortium are jointly and individually liable for the implementation of the contract. This means that if one contractor fails to perform their duties or to pay any financial reimbursement due to the Commission then the other partners are responsible for meeting those obligations.
There are a number of ways to aid the consortium
building and management process. There are commercially available
project planning and group working tools. You should review all
the tools potentially available, particularly those for good planning
and communication, and those with which the partners may have prior
experience, and use what seems to fit your requirements.