"It was a learning exercise on both sides," says David Miles who managed the exercise for the Commission. "The new instruments are significantly different to those used in the past, and it was not surprising at this early stage, before the actual launch of FP6, that many of the submissions did not demonstrate a good understanding of their requirements. That was particularly the case with the networks of excellence. On our side we need to look at how we can explain them better to potential participants."
Far and wide
According to Miles, there were far more submissions than expected. In total some 12,000 expressions of interest were received by the June deadline. They came from all over Europe and beyond, with a fair spread across all the thematic priorities. Academia and research institutes were responsible for the bulk of them, with industry only submitting 14% of the total. "It is not too surprising that industry should feel more guarded, and hold back their ideas until calls for proposals are launched," Miles concedes. In fact, now that the submitters have had the chance to publicise their information on CORDIS, he suspects that those whose ideas are closer to market have been less likely to make full use of the opportunity. This is particularly noticeable for some thematic priorities.
"This exercise has given us a detailed snapshot of European research in 2002," says Miles. "We received submissions for practically every topic, with roughly two-thirds being for integrated projects. It has shown us which topics can be regarded as ready for calls and which we need to hold off for a little while."
The Commission believes that around 20% of the submissions could be regarded as excellent, inasmuch as they addressed all aspects of the requirements, demonstrating readiness to participate in the first calls using one of the new instruments in topics identified in the thematic priorities. Even to fund just these would exhaust the FP6 budget many times over, with average proposed project budgets around the €17-18 million mark. Clearly the first calls will not be able to cover all the areas where excellent expressions of interest were received.
With the original objective of identifying research topics more than satisfied, the Commission has now given the submissions a new purpose. "With the huge response, there is a major resource available for those wishing to search for partners to complete their consortia," says Miles. As a result, all expressions of interest whose submitters want them published are now available to search on CORDIS, the Community Research and Development Information Service( 1 ).
Although CORDIS already has a Partners service, the catalogue of expressions of interest provides far more detailed information on possible project ideas, so it should prove to be a valuable resource in the early stages of FP6. Of course, no new submissions can be added as the call for expressions of interest is closed, whereas new entries can be added to the Partners service at any time. So, as FP6 gets under way, the Partners service will become more and more useful compared to the expressions of interest catalogue.
It is clear also that many submissions will have elements in common with others. So exploring the catalogue may be the first step in leading different submitters to team up to put together proposals.
The huge response to the call demonstrates the widespread interest in European research. Miles believes that the Commission needs to capitalise on this interest. "There are obviously many instances where these researchers could benefit from greater networking of national activities," he says. "The challenge now is to facilitate such networking within the context of the European Research Area."
The expressions of interest exercise has clearly been a great success, measured in terms of response, at any rate. However, Miles believes as a global exercise it is a one-off. "We may use the tool again in specific, well-targeted areas in a given thematic priority for example but then our aims would be more limited as FP6 will already have been up and running for some time," he concludes.