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COST at a turning point: A unique framework for pan-European ST cooperation as clear demonstration of European values

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - H2020 (COST at a turning point: A unique framework for pan-European ST cooperation as clear demonstration of European values)

Reporting period: 2017-05-01 to 2018-04-30

COST’s mission is to enable breakthrough scientific developments leading to new concepts and products. It contributes to strengthen Europe’s research and innovation capacities, and increases the impact on society of scientific and technological research and innovation, in Europe and beyond. Since its establishment in 1971, COST is promoting cooperation in Science and Technology at pan-European level and contributing to closing the gap between science, policy makers and society. It is governed by 38 COST Full and Cooperating Members.
To continue as the leading networking instrument in the ERA, and in line with the COST Vision and Strategic Goals, COST has defined three priorities for its positioning in the remaining part of Horizon 2020 and FP9:
1) Promoting and spreading excellence
2) Fostering interdisciplinary research for breakthrough science
3) Empowering and retaining young researchers and innovators
Pockets of excellence can be found everywhere in Europe and COST has the tools and instruments at its disposal to unlock this untapped potential, creating a win-win situation for Europe as a whole.
COST's interdisciplinary bottom-up research and innovation networks, the COST Actions, are effectively bridging the innovation divide and participation gaps in Europe and are providing a large spectrum of opportunities for young generations of researchers and innovators. Involvement in COST Actions both anticipates and complements the activities of the EU Collaborative Framework Programme, spreading excellence across Europe and beyond. COST Actions are investigator-driven networks, open to researchers and stakeholders of all disciplines. COST encourages participation from all actors, such as academics, non-academics, SMEs, international organisations and public authorities. COST Actions are active through a range of networking tools, such as meetings, workshops, conferences, training schools, short-term scientific missions, Conference Grants, and dissemination activities.
Participation in COST has led to significant results and follow-up in terms of the number of proposals submitted for collaborative research in Horizon 2020, with a striking success rate which more than doubles the average success rates for these programmes. This underpins the role of COST as a pre-portal for follow-up European funding for research and innovation. By networking researchers and innovators from all career levels, from PhD students to Nobel Prize winners, COST connects complementary funding schemes ranging from Erasmus+ to European Research Council (ERC) grants, facilitating the entry of promising young talents into these schemes.
The COST Association is the beneficiary of a Coordination and Support Action following the 2017-18 Work Programme of Horizon 2020. The COST Association AISBL integrates governance, management and implementation functions, creating the base for a responsible and accountable organisation where the Full Members have direct control.
The current report covers the period 01/05/17 – 30/04/18 that represents the 3rd year of the second Specific Grant Agreement (SGA2.3) implementing the FPA signed on 29/07/2015. While the FPA defines the overarching objective and overall strategy to achieve the COST mission for the totality of the Horizon 2020 period, the SGAs set the specific objectives and describe the work and concrete tasks, their timing and required resources for the 12 month implementation period.
An overall budget of EUR 300 million was foreseen for the duration of the FPA covering the total Horizon 2020 period.
The current report covers the second reporting period of SGA2 (SGA2.3) composed of 12 months, 1 May 2017 to 30 April 2018.
The COST Association ensured that CSO decisions were fully implemented and that the CSO was provided with reliable and timely inputs and background documents. The COST Association also published a new Strategic Plan on 12/12/17. To fulfil all its obligations, the COST Association has implemented the Annual Activity Plan (AAP) for the period of 2017-18 and adopted the AAP 2018-2019, in line with the tasks and commitments laid down in the SGA2. The AAP is essential to anticipate and plan work and tasks, while ensuring for timely delivery of mandatory duties with the available resources.

There were 293 COST Actions (including Targeted Networks) running, networking around 45 000 researchers, engineers and scholars. There were two collection dates of the Open Call during the reporting period on 7/09/17 and 27/04/18. The necessary information system development, testing and implementation were also seamlessly realised within the reporting period.
The COST Association has three different sources for the assessment of performance and progress:
- Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), assessed on a quarterly basis.
- COST Actions are required to monitor their own performance, through the Monitoring and Final Assessment (MFA) system, validated by an external and independent rapporteur.
- General impact studies, as foreseen by the FPA, assessing the impact of COST-funded activities. These studies follow the COST impact analysis model, as approved by the CSO during its meeting on 25-26 April 2018.
The expected impacts of COST are clustered into four objectives:
Objective 1 - Joining research efforts and developing common S&T programmes
This objective relates to the coordination of nationally funded research initiatives and the pooling of dedicated funds in science and technology. The COST Association regularly monitors the size of networks and the geographical and national diversity of participants against specific targets set dedicated to this objective. The COST Monitoring and Final Assessment system (MFA) requires COST-funded activities to report on the results of their operations, in the form of common projects and common publications. A particular focus is given to resulting Horizon 2020 projects, underlining the role of COST Actions as the pre-portal to Horizon 2020.
Objective 2 - Capacity building
Several tools employed by COST Actions, like Short-Term Scientific Missions and Training Schools, specifically aim to build up capacity. The COST Association regularly monitors the participation of Early Career Investigators in COST activities, thereby assuring the continuing relevance of COST-funded activities to these researchers. The MFA assesses the output of COST activities with regard to projects under Horizon 2020, allowing to see the added value to research capacity.
Objective 3 - Addressing Societal Questions
COST Actions are assessed to what extent their topics is transdisciplinary, and to what extent they address questions which belong to the Societal Challenges. Additionally, in the MFA, COST-funded activities need to report on proposals emerging from these activities touching on Societal Challenges. The same is asked for common projects and co-authored publications.
Objective 4 - Strengthening COST Inclusiveness Policy
Within COST, 20 countries are designated as COST Inclusiveness Target Countries (ITCs). COST is committed to contribute to the connectedness of these researchers with leading knowledge hubs. COST regularly measures the running COST Actions’ S&T budget benefiting ITCs, the proportion of researchers from ITCs in Actions, and the representation of ITCs in Actions. On all counts, the COST Association has set specific targets, on which the performance and progress is regularly assessed.