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H2020 Report Summary

Project ID: 681463
Funded under: H2020-EU.4.e.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - H2020 (COST at a turning point: A unique framework for pan-European ST cooperation as clear demonstration of European values)

Reporting period: 2015-05-01 to 2016-04-30

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

COST’s mission is as simple as it is ambitious: to enable breakthrough scientific developments that will lead to new concepts and products. In so doing, it contributes to strengthening Europe’s research and innovation capacities, and increases the impact on society of scientific and technological research and innovation, in Europe and beyond.

COST’s success in this has been built on a straightforward but powerful approach. 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 across the continent motivated by avoiding duplications and 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 36 COST Member Countries.

Since its establishment in 1971, COST has been financing the coordination of Science and Technology activities in Europe by supporting networks, called COST Actions, aiming to join research efforts and offering collaboration opportunities to researchers and knowledge users. COST Actions are pan-European, 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 connect ‘pockets of excellence’ in science and technology operating from diverse locations in Europe.

The COST Association is the beneficiary of a Coordination and Support Action (CSA) following the 2014-15 Work Programme of Horizon 2020. It has been born following the COST Member Countries unanimous decision. The COST Association was set-up in the form of an AISBL under the Belgian law for the purpose to run the COST programme. The COST Association has integrated governance, management and implementation functions, creating the base for a responsible and accountable organisation where the Member Countries (through the Committee of Senior Officials), have direct control about strategy and operations.

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 first reporting period of SGA2 (SGA2.1) composed of 12 months, 1 May 2015 to 30 April 2016.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

The COST Association demonstrates a strong commitment to diversity and providing opportunities notably for the young generation from less research-intensive countries and bring them into contact with representatives from the leading knowledge hubs in Europe. COST earmarks for the benefit of its Member Countries, the Inclusiveness Target Countries, ITC, half of the funding it receives through Horizon 2020. This budget is allocated for COST Action activities that build leadership by encouraging researchers from ITC countries to take more active roles, to set-up, conduct COST Actions or manage COST Action 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 reaching out to less connected institutions and involving younger researchers.

The COST Association has continued to simplify its procedures and operations through the development and enhancements of its implementation rules and electronic tools.

The CSO, the COST Association general assembly and main governing body, made sure that COST principles would be preserved. A dedicated Working Group on “Implementing COST Inclusiveness Policy” continued to work. The COST Association had two main groups of activities:

- obligations in the frame of the FPA and SGAs signed with the European Commission;
- obligations in the frame of its legal statutes as a non-profit, international Association under the Belgian law.

During the reporting period, 311 COST Actions were running involving about 45 000 researchers, engineers and scholars.

It also saw the complete renewal of the COST scientific structure and has shifted to a new scientific organisation that strengthens the multi- and interdisciplinary side of modern science, with a high-level Scientific Committee at its heart. It has made the transition to a truly bottom-up, simplified, and streamlined one-step submission process that offers comprehensive feedback to proposers. The Open Call has been launched under the new Submission, Evaluation, Selection and Approval (SESA) process. The first Collection Date of the reporting period was on 8 September 2015. The necessary information system development, testing and implementation were also seamlessly realised within the reporting period.

The COST Association was completing the necessary operations. Internal policies, rules and procedures were developed in the shortest time complying with the Belgian and European legal frames. It performed its second yearly closing of accounts and continued the development and deployment of the user-friendly IT tools. It developed a Communication Strategy 2015-2017, a code of conduct, prepared and followed-up the governance work, elaborated an analysis on participation from Inclusiveness Target Countries as well as the future strategy, provided legal verification of the Action Grant Agreement template, COST Vademecum for COST Action implementation and continued with its core activity providing scientific and financial management support to the running COST Actions, etc.

The COST Association operation during its second year of the FPA was characterised by:
- Maintaining the COST Association functional fundaments (all the internal procedures, protocols, mechanisms, labour regulation, new tailored accounting system, etc.) needed for a credible, solid, accountable legal entity;
- Using the Finance Contract and obtaining a loan from the European Investment Bank;
- Running the new scientific structure with the new Submission, Evaluation, Selection, Approval rules and procedure and related processes and IT tools;
- Continuing the integration of COST Policies into all COST activities throughout the lifecycle of COST Actions;
- Welcoming Montenegro as a new COST member Country;
- Memorandum of Understanding with the Joint Research Centre;
- Developing the COST brand strategy.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

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 through the Quarterly Reports presented for COST Executive Board
- COST-funded activities (COST Actions) are required to monitor their own performance, through the Monitoring and Final Assessment (MFA) system. This assessment is 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. Additionally, 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. This allows the COST Association to analyse the extent to which research efforts are effectively combined, and encourages COST beneficiaries to seek these collaborations.

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. Moreover, the COST Monitoring and Final Assessment system (MFA) assesses the output of COST activities with regard to projects under Horizon 2020, allowing an additional check on the extent to which COST Actions provide added value to research capacity.

Objective 3
This objective relates to the impact on Societal Challenges. The relevance of COST Actions with respect to major Societal Challenges is monitored through two distinct lenses. First, concerning COST Actions, an assessment is made to what extent their topics consider transdisciplinary, and to what extent they address questions which belong to the Societal Challenges as defined under Horizon 2020. Additionally, in the COST Monitoring and Final Assessment System (MFA), COST-funded activities need to report on the extent to which proposals emerging from these activities touching on Societal Challenges. The same is asked for common projects and co-authored publications. The COST Association periodically assess the involvement of of players relevant to societal questions in COST-funded activities.

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). One of the objectives of COST is to increase the connectedness of these countries’ researchers, engineers and scholars with leading knowledge hubs and networks. 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.

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