Why good projects are rejected?
Imagine that you have identified a project idea innovative and consistent with the objectives of the call, then you have put together a suitable partnership and written a good project application. However, the project is rejected. Why?
I describe here the most common reasons (illustrated with reference to the evaluators) by which good project are rejected, and how to avoid, as far as possible, this unpleasant outcome.
1. Hasty reading of the application form by the evaluator. The project contains information of which the assessor is not aware because he/she reads the application form in a hurry. This way the evaluator criticizes the project based on wrong assumptions. For example, the assessor awards a low score because, he/she writes, the partnership has not carried out a preliminary analysis of the needs of the beneficiaries of the project. Not really, as the description of the preliminary needs analysis is present in the application form on page 21, where it occupies a quarter of a page. These assessments are the most painful, because they are objectively wrong. Errors of this kind should imply a full re-evaluation of the project by others evaluators as all the evaluation can be biased.
How to prevent this type of error: give the project a linear structure as much as possible, repeat more than once the important content, use a simple language, and ALLCAPS to point out out the key information.
2. Insufficient knowledge of the program by the evaluator. The evaluator criticizes the project on the basis of incorrect information on the characteristics of the program. For example, it awards a low score because, he/she writes, a certain cost is not eligible. Not really, as, according to the Program Guide, the cost is instead eligible. It is the assessor who has misread or does not remember. The same, the evaluator awards a low score because, he/she writes, the structure for the management of the project is not innovative. Actually, according to the Guide, it is the project idea has to be innovative, not the management. This too is a easily verifiable error. Errors of this kind should imply a full re-evaluation of the project by others evaluators as all the evaluation can be biased.
How to prevent this type of error: quote the Guide (including pages) when addressing issues believed to be less known by the evaluators.
3. Half empty or half full. Many project choices imply both advantages than disadvantages. For example, the involvement of a large number of partners can improve the impact and the European dimension of a project but makes management more difficult. In every project, the evaluator may be more susceptible to the positive or negative outcomes of a specific choice.
How to reduce the risk of ‘half empty’: avoid as much as possible project choices that can be seen ‘half empty’, and when not possible emphasize the advantages. Imagine in advance and argue against possible negative objections.
4. Lack of knowledge of best practices on management of European projects by the evaluator. The evaluator (who probably has never previously participated in a European projector or written a successful European project, because, at least in Italy, these kind of experiences are not selection criteria for the evaluators) criticizes your project choices, stemming from your previous roles in many European projects: evaluator, project manager, country manager, industry expert, researcher, project writer, etc. For example, the assessor awards a low score because, he/she writes, the management of the partnership is too centralized (but he/she has never attended a European project meeting), or because he/she thinks the project does not need an external evaluator (but he/she never read a mid-term evaluation report of a European project), or even because he/she opines the objectives of dissemination are unrealistic (but he/she has never been involved in dissemination in European projects). There are several ways to structure a project, and everyone has its own preferences, but experts of the field can recognize valid choices even if they are not their favorite. The evaluator who never wrote or participated in a European project easily produces extravagant evaluations.
How to reduce the risk of extravagant evaluations: you need to explain as much as possible the reasons and benefits of each choice, even if this can sound pedantic and annoy expert evaluators. From a more broad point of view, risk should be faced from the outset, entrusting as evaluators only sector experts with previous experience in writing of successful applications and/or management of European projects.
5. Something is missing here! This is what some evaluators write, focusing on marginal issues that deliberately you did not enter in the application form. There are so many aspects of a project that could be described, but in many application forms the fields for answers are locked and let you insert only a predetermined maximum number of words. For this reason you are compelled to describe only the aspects that you consider most important and use at most all the available space. And even when the fields are free it is not appropriate to describe everything, absolutely everything, including minutiae, because the success rate of projects is low, so you risk to lose too much time for nothing. Should the project be approved, some minor aspects will be decided later by the partners. I have been criticized by different evaluators (and got low score), because I have omitted to describe:
- the exact type of Creative Commons license that will be used for the products of the project.
- the exact cost of flight tickets of 20 different trips (5 partners to meet 5 times over 3 years). I budgeted instead the flights at average cost, as financial reporting was prescribed at real costs, so in no case I was going to make a profit with trips.
- how the participants in a pilot would be selected. I wrote everyone would be required Europass, the assessor did not notice (Case 1. described above, Hasty reading of the application form), but in any case this did not suffice, as the assessor wanted also to know ‘how they can join ‘.
- (in a different project) the information to be collected by the participants at the end of a pilot.
- I quote verbatim: ‘the risks associated with the rapid evolution of ICT and the possible changes that may occur during the three years of the projects, making obsolete some parts of the project ‘ (should I know these risks, I would invest in the stock market, but I would also like to ask the evaluator).
- And finally I was stigmatized by the same evaluator of the previous point, because, in an effort to provide all the possible information, in answering to some questions I made references to other sections of the application form and twice I continued to answer a question in another filed.
How to reduce the risk something is missing: it is impossible, even with maximum effort. However, if the evaluator affirms something is missing, consider inserting it the next projects.
This article should be read together with Silly talk: nonsenses by the evaluators of EU funded projects and What is the halo effect and how it distorts the assessment of European funded projects
After I posted this article on LinkedIn, one of the answers I received has been the following:
Erika Nemes: I teach EU project management [in Italy] and some of my erasmus plus students enrolled to the course because they have been selected as evaluators but they admittedly had no idea what erasmus plus was and how it worked.