Nowadays, almost every article begins with something like this: the world is changing faster than ever. It is changing politically, socially, technologically, and environmentally, thinking of Brexit,  AI, blockchain, climate change, trade wars between US and China, as well as COVID-19 (Source).

The EU research and innovation agenda addresses all kind of different programs and has to give shape to these transitions. The Horizon 2020 program, for example, funds research projects such as ATELIER and the bigger group of SCC1 projects, and many of the topics mentioned above, especially those relevant to the European Union and its citizens, are part of the latest Horizon Europe calls.

The SCC1 projects give shape to the energy transition by focusing on fast and effective ways to reach the goal of climate-neutral cities. A solid project plan with so called impact paths, results and monitoring and evaluation must justify the financial requirements for such projects. For the larger Research and Innovation projects that focus on the construction of demonstration projects, including the ATELIER project, this implies that the methods, activities and results have to be planned already six years in advance. Minor changes (within the limits of the overall budget) can be made, but major strategic adjustments are not welcomed and often become a bureaucratic burden. However, external forces and new information can be crucial for innovation and should therefore be taken into account during the project.

I have encountered many original ways to tender and manage innovative projects. For example, functional or performance-based specifications, impact agreements without set project plans, agile project management and innovative cutting-edge commissions. I think there is a lot of knowledge and experience about the procurement of innovative projects (Source). Therefore, I am asking myself and you: why is this still so uncommon in the world of research calls and tenders?

Some ingredients making European research conditions more flexible and innovative could be:

  • working in an agile and adaptive way as far as possible in “Innovation Action” research projects (while guaranteeing a certain degree of stability as well),
  • working more closely together with the client, such as the sponsor and/or the end-user of the project. They can steer new information and changes to the project, based on the overall progress (e.g. new policies, new stakeholders, technological innovations),
  • develop more adaptive impact and evaluation frameworks to continue keeping track of the progress and making an open and in-depth analysis of results and impact.

What do you think? Do you know of any ideas and pilots around more adaptive or innovative tendering in research programs? Let’s explore! I’m eager to find out and learn.

Marije Poel –


Picture: Javier Allegue Barros (Unsplash)