FIT FORTHEM participates in the event: LUMP SUMs IN HORIZON EUROPE: PRACTICAL INSIGHTS

Jointly organized by the Research Council Lithuania – NCP Research Council Lithuania – Latvian Council of Science - Estonian Research Council – The National Center for Research and Development – Business and Science Poland

Funding EU projects by so-called lump sums is often listed by the European Commission among the measures to simplify their implementation. In those projects at the stage of applying, the calculation of costs is based on estimated costs per project partner per work package and related to types of activities and related costs. Cost categories are the same as in actual costs funded projects.

Once the Commission selects the proposal for funding, the calculated lump sums are excepted, and, during the implementation of the projects, no financial statements are to be provided and no proofs for expenditures are necessary any more. Additionally, no timesheets need to be completed for staff while accounting details need to be kept in folders, unless this is mandatory for the institution itself to follow national or internal regulations. The project receives its funding regardless of the expenses incurred.

What matters for lump-sum projects is that it must be demonstrated that all tasks have been worked on as planned, that it is evident which organization has performed which tasks, and that work packages have been successfully completed.

How exactly this success is to be measured has been a major concern for the FIT FORTHEM consortium from the very beginning, as we are working on very ambitious goals and certainly not everything can be completely predicted. Lump-sum funding was only piloted in Horizon Europe and none of the partner universities so far had experienced a whole project cycle so far. What we all agreed on was that the budget calculation at the application stage needs much more effort for a project that at the end might not get funded. This is especially true with regards to the prospects of success: On average, 15 out of 100 EU applications are funded, in some funding lines even significantly less.

In addition, there are still uncertainties in auditing lump-sum funded projects because we lack experience concluding them. Still, it can be agreed that project management is less finance-driven and the focus can be put more on the content-related implementation. Now the first funding period of FIT FORTHEM is coming to an end, and we will soon get to know how our work has been assessed by the European Commission and external evaluators. In the course of that reporting period FIT FORTHEM participated in an information event organized by the European Commission in May 2021, and in an event organized by IGLO in March 2022 with the title: IGLO in Action - Exchange of Experiences with the Implementation of Lump Sum Projects. IGLO is an informal organization of R&D Liaison Offices in Brussels.

Finally, and that is actually what this blogpost is to highlight, through the agency of Agnese Rusakova and thanks to her excellent contacts on the national and international level, on April 6, 2022 FIT FORTHEM coordinators had the possibility to share previous experiences with the lump-sum funding scheme for projects funded by the European Commission with a broad international audience.

At first, when we were invited to share our experiences at this event, we were a bit bewildered since we did not consider ourselves real experts in the field. But we accepted the invitation at least to discuss our concerns and options. The event first gave the floor to Ulrich Genschel (Head of Sector Simplification, DG Research & Innovation, H3 – Common service for business processes, EC), and Tomasz Poprawka (Senior European Advisor, UK Research Office (UKRO) Brussels). After the presentation of FIT FORTHEM managing coordinator at JGU in Mainz Nicole Birkle, two other testimonials for the implementation of the lump-sum funding approach were given:  one representing the Swafs-project of the AURORA Alliance, represented by Andrea Nogova, and one showcasing the Market 4.0 Project presented by Gražina Žardalevičienė.

In her presentation Nicole focused for FIT FORTHEM on the following aspects and findings:

  1. From the call text to project content: Work package design more difficult when trying to minimize financial risks by setting small scale work package;
  2. Steps from content to budget: not so different from budget calculations in other projects, but calculations need a bit more consideration and trust in the consortium;
  3. The Grant Agreement preparation process: Grant preparation phase did not differ so much from other projects and funding schemes;
  4. The consortium agreement - a major challenge!: A legally binding model is needed for lump-sum-funded projects as the often used DESCA-model is not sufficient to address all the specific aspects of the lump sum funding;
  5. The implementation of the project – where simplification is truly tangible: Simplification at the implementation phase – welcomed, but with many question marks in place;
  6. Possible amendments and reporting: Simplification of reporting – very welcomed, but again with many questions marks in place.

The introductory presentation of Ulrich Genschel already eliminated some major ambiguities. He clearly confirmed for example that:

  • no actual costs at all are to be proven, no financial reporting will be done;
  • no time-sheets are needed to demonstrate which person has worked on which tasks with how many person months;
  • proper implementation of a work package does not necessarily mean all activities needed to be successful;
  • to be able to show “who did what” does not refer to single staff members but to the beneficiaries involved.

Although of course most partners keep detailed records on their costs due to institutional regulations, those confirmations let us relax and look forward to the interim report and the review meeting with the EC and external experts in September 2022. Nevertheless, we are curious about what awaits us in detail and how our performance will be evaluated. Perhaps we will have less mixed feelings about the lump-sum funding afterwards than almost all FIT FORTHEM partners had during the first months of the project.

Agnese Rusakova, University of Latvia,
Nicole Birkle, JGU FIT FORTHEM Managing Coordinator

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