Lack of innovative inspiration kills over one third of first call IST proposals

Brussels 28 September 1999EuroInfo Tech, the fortnightly newsletter on European Union policy in telecommunications, information technology and consumer electronics, has reported that over one third of project proposals in the first call for the EU's Information Society Technologies R&D programme failed to meet European Commission demands on their scientific, technological and innovative content. One of the member state officials in the sector stated that the quality of projects was particularly weak in the area of applications, where firms proposed Internet ideas that were not very original and which failed to capture the imagination of the expert evaluators. Since the proposal thread needs to be clear from research down to the consumer and has to be credible, the commission will consider looking at documentation provided to proposers to make sure the requirement on quality is made clearer in future calls.

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The European Commission's Directorate General XIII considers the response by European researchers and industry to the first call of the IST Programme as quite good. Almost 2500 proposals for RTD projects by consortia from all over Europe addressed the IST Programme. A novelty is the participation of universities and companies from the countries in Central and Eastern Europe as well as from the European Economic Area, Cyprus and Israel on equal terms with their colleagues from the EU. The submitted proposals ask the EC for approximately 4.5 billion euro funding, a figure that was expected by the Commission services. The budget dedicated to this call is approximately 800 million euro.

The IST Programme's call has been launched by DG XIII on 19 March and closed on 16 June. The evaluation of the proposals by experts started on 28 June and has led to a list of selected proposals from only 400 winning consortia, which will start before the end of this year. Each proposal is read by three evaluators against five criteria. The fact that an incredibly high amount of first call proposals, tens of percent, more than one third, failed on the first criteria of science, technology and innovation, came as a bit of a shock, according to EuroInfo Tech's EC spokesman. The member state official stresses that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the evaluation but that the selection process is maybe getting better and tougher at the same time.

Future candidates for funding should keep in mind that their proposals need to contain a good level of innovation or new science and technology in order to stand a chance. If these crucial factors are missing, the evaluators won't even bother to read the rest. To avoid that only large companies will be successful by turning the aspect of innovation in science and technology into a priority, the European Commission has decided to fix a number of well determined goal posts and establish a few common rules for evaluators. As a result, small companies won't "get hammered" in favour of their big brothers which are better known and win the benefit of any evaluator's doubts, as the EuroInfo Tech source points out. This means that all future candidates for funding will have to explain how their project relates to a product down the line.

The IST Programme, which has to create a "User-friendly information society (1998 to 2002)", is part of the Fifth Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration, and involves a total budget of 3.6 billion euro. The strategic objective of the Information Society Technologies (IST) Programme is to realise the benefits of the information society for Europe both by accelerating its emergence and by ensuring that the needs of individuals and enterprises are met. The second call for the IST Programme includes a budget of 400 million euro and has been closed on 15 September. These first two calls will be followed by regular calls through the life-time of the IST programme to 2002. More information is available at the Web site of EuroInfo Tech.


Leslie Versweyveld

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