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

Reporting period: 2016-05-01 to 2017-04-30

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.
COST fosters new ideas, shares knowledge and focuses on output, and does this through supporting COST principles, namely: excellence, being open and being inclusive. Researchers are free to choose how to achieve a COST Action’s objectives. It uses the power of cooperation, allowing the pooling of resources and expertise to enhance the value of nationally funded research. It does so motivated by leveraging national research investments.
COST is the longest-running programme 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 37 COST Full and Cooperating Members.
Since its establishment in 1971, COST has been financing the coordination of Science and Technology activities in Europe by supporting networks, called COST Actions. COST Actions are investigator-driven networks, open to researchers and stakeholders of all disciplines, including business and civil societies’ representatives, with a duration of four years. They are active through a range of networking tools, such as meetings, workshops, conferences, training schools, short-term scientific missions, and dissemination activities. COST does not fund research itself.
Over the course of its history, COST has allowed to tackle important societal challenges as well as connected ‘pockets of excellence’ operating from diverse locations in Europe.
The COST Association is the beneficiary of a Coordination and Support Action (CSA) following the 2016-17 Work Programme of Horizon 2020. The COST Association was set-up in the form of an AISBL under the Belgian law for the purpose to run the COST programme. It has integrated governance, management and implementation functions, creating the base for a responsible and accountable organisation where the Full Members have direct control.
The legal and financial frames for the COST Association operations are provided via a Framework Partnership Agreement (FPA) and continuous, multiannual Specific Grant Agreements (SGA). 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 (SGA2.2) composed of 12 months, 1 May 2016 to 30 April 2017.
There were 321 COST Actions running involving about 45 000 participants.

During the reporting period, there were two main groups of activities:

- obligations in the frame of the FPA and SGAs signed with the European Commission;
The CSO, the COST Association general assembly and main governing body, made sure that COST principles would be preserved. It established a dedicated taskforce to fulfil its commitment to diversity and providing opportunities notably for the young generation from less research-intensive countries, named as Inclusiveness Target Countries (ITCs), and bring them into contact with representatives from the leading knowledge hubs in Europe. The taskforce recommended dedicated measures to enhance COST spending and achieve that 50% of its budget would be spent at the benefit of the ITCs. The budget is allocated for COST Action activities allowing researchers from ITCs to take leadership roles, to set-up or conduct COST Actions or manage the grants. The new scientific structure and evaluation system stipulates that when proposals receive similar scores, the Scientific Committee can give a preference to proposals that have a stronger strategy for less connected researchers.
The new scientific structure was consolidated to finalise the transition to a truly bottom-up, simplified, and streamlined one-step submission process. The Open Call had one Collection Date on 7 December 2016.

- obligations in the frame of its legal statutes as a non-profit, international Association under the Belgian law.
It was completing internal policies, rules and procedures complying with the Belgian and European legal frames. It performed its third yearly closing of accounts and continued the development and deployment of the user-friendly IT tools. It followed the Communication Strategy 2015-2017, prepared and followed-up the governance work, designed and implemented dedicated measures to enhance participation from ITCs and had its new Statutes entered into force.
The expected impacts of the COST instrument are clustered into four objectives: “Joining research efforts and developing common S&T programmes”, “Capacity building”, “Addressing Societal Questions” and “Strengthening COST Inclusiveness Policy”.

The COST Association has three different sources for the assessment of performance and progress:
- “Key Performance Indicators” (KPIs) as 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.
- Impact Studies, as foreseen by the FPA, assessing the impact of COST-funded activities.

Objective 1
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.

Objective 2
This objective relates to 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
This objective relates to the impact on Societal Challenges. 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
This objective targets the strengthening of COST Excellence and Inclusiveness Policy. In the COST Framework, 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.
Networking - getting to know each other
Training school