This is a living document in which I summarise positive and negative experiences I made by participating in proposal writing involving many partners and a coordinator. Besides EU proposal writing, these tips may be useful for large projects where one or more of the following conditions are met:
- There are many partners.
- The partners are remote.
- The partners have busy schedules and/or other commitments.
- The coordinator has no authority (only incentives) over the partners.
Although the document is written from the point-of-view of a partner, it is mostly addressed to coordinators.
You need to foster predictability, i.e., a constant feeling that partners know exactly what they need to do, how much time to allocate and when they need to allocate time. Unexpectedly dropping urgent issues creates anxiety, kills creativity and makes people “blacklist” you in the long run. Eventually, you lose good people.
- Set up good communication channels from day 0: I made good experience with mailing lists for written communication and Skype for meetings, as well as paid telcos as a backup.
- Do not forget people: Yes, there was that one time when the coordinator kept forgetting to send me messages that should have reached all partners. Besides being totally unacceptable, it has lead to a lot of time wastage.
- Disseminate a high-level time-line: For EU proposal writing, I roughly distinguish the following phases:
4-page summary writing: This is likely done by you alone or among few core partners.
Consortium building: Find the right people and pitch them to become partners.
Draft tasks: Ask partners to draft how they see themselves fit into the project.
Assign budget/person-months for each partner: Very sensitive topic that can potentially lead to many rounds of negotiations and compromising. Ensure you allocate enough time for this.
Write full draft: Produce a document that no longer looks like a mosaic of individual ideas and can be read back-to-back by partners with a reviewer’s eye.
Final improvements and submission: Ideally done iteratively, while the deadline has not passed, ask partners to comment, improve the document based on comments, submit it to the portal and repeat.
If memory serves me right, it is recommended to reserve at least 3 month in total, from start to submission deadline.
- Agree on a weekly meeting time-slot: The meeting is essential to quickly resolve issues, converge on a vision, while avoiding time wastage due to ping-pong-ing emails. Having a fixed, weekly time-slot helps partners plan their schedules to ensure they can be present at that meeting. The weekly meeting acts as a clock ensuring the project advances.
- Keep the meetings short: Do not feel compelled to fill in the hour if there is not much to discuss.
- Avoid long discussions that do not involve all partners: Prefer follow-up meetings in smaller groups. Given the smaller size, these should be easier to schedule on short notice.
- Make skipping the meeting an exception: If you are travelling and cannot host the meeting, let partners know in advance. However, do not skip the meeting too often, otherwise your partners will learn that the meeting is mostly not taking place and be tempted to fill that time-slot.
- Ensure glitch-free technology: This was already covered by a previous tip, but it is so important that it needs repetition. Avoid wasting partners' time by starting the meeting with 10-minutes of “hello, can you hear me”. Quickly switch to the backup meeting channel, in case the primary one fails, and inform partners by email.
- Back the meeting in written: This is known at least since Roman times.
- Send an agenda 1 day before: This is not only useful to confirm that the meeting is taking place, but also to remind pending TODOs and give partners a last chance to act on them until the meeting takes place.
- Send minutes after the meeting, preferably the same day: This ensures that you are in sync with the partners on the TODOs that they committed to. Although, partners have a full week to work on their TODOs, assume they will spend around 20% of their time, both due to other commitments and the likely need for internal synchronisation.
- Be kind to lagging behind: The whole point of the weekly meeting is to understand why some partners are lagging behind. Did they not understand that they have a TODO? Did they not fully understand what is required from them? Are they encountering some blockages? Whatever the cause, be assertive and actionable; good partners must always deliver!