Thursday, 16 June 2011

Notes from FP7 SSH Event

The National Contact Point for the Socioeconomic Sciences and Humanities in the EC's Framework Programme (FP7) held an event at UCL in London yesterday on the forthcoming call.

It was slightly disappointing: it fell into the trap beloved of those dealing with European funding of battering the audience with dense, text-heavy Powerpoint slides. I was hoping for a little insight beyond the published Work Programme, but instead we were treated to a deathy - but skimpy - overview of it. They took no prisoners: the title of every topic was incanted, but no detail or background given beyond that.

In fact, the event only came alive when Prof Evelyn Welch arrived and spoke about her specific experience of managing a framework project. She infused her talk with the personality, experience and subjectivity that had been so absent from the administrative talks. In particular, she highlighted:
  • the need to have had a substantial background in managing project before even thinking of going for European funding. She had run five projects already, from the AHRC, ESF and Marie Curie.
  • she had applied for - and got - funding from the Humanities in the European Research Area (HERA) scheme, which was a partnership between national funders (such as the ESRC and AHRC) and the EC.
  • you should 'promise what you want to deliver.' You should apply for funding because you actually want to do the research, not because your institution is forcing you to do so, or you feel a sense of obligation to the other members of the consortium. The acid test is: would your heart leap or sink if the award letter came? The research, the project, has to be something you actively want to do.
  • a lot of academics in the humanities struggle with the idea of 'work packages', because it's not part of their culture. Work packages are discrete subprojects. However, they should all feed in to and help answer the overall research questions of the project.
  • your consortium should be built on a trusted network of contacts, and should 'make sense'. It shouldn't be a flag of convenience. It is also good to involve 'associate partners' - i.e. users and groups outside of academia such as museums or policy bodies.
  • you must, must, must include a project coordinator, and ask for the cost of this as part of the application. The academic shouldn't manage the project: it's too large a task, especially as the PI would also be leading one of the work packages. A project manager is expected by the EC, and they might question how you could possibly complete the project without one.
Prof Welch finished by summarising why people should get involved with European funding:
  • That's where the funding is. As national funding shrinks, the Framework Programme is increasing;
  • It offers you the opportunity to work wiht an exciting, diverse range of people with different skills and backgrounds;
  • It gives you access to materials and expertise and information that would be impossible to put together on your own.
  • It's good fun.

She illustrated this by giving an example from her HERA project which was looking at the reasons why fashions came and went. At a project meeting at a small town in Finland they uncovered a teasure trove of costumes from the seventeenth and eighteenth century that completely changed her understanding of how contemporary fashion had spread through Scandinavia. Such revelations, such insights, would not have been possible had she not had the impetus and the framework of a European research grant.

The next SSH call will open on 20 July, with a deadline of 2 Feb 2012. If you want any more information on it, do get in touch.

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