Why SMART Objectives are NOT really Smart in EU Projects and in successful grant applications 8

Stop being SMARTConsultancy companies, training organisations, project managers,  proposal writers and many actors in the area of EU funding have been endorsing in their approaches for years now and unfortunately for the upcoming years SMART objectives. SMART objectives are based on the following 5 principles,

  1. Specific
  2. Measureable
  3. Achievable or Attainable
  4. Realistic or Relevant and
  5. In Time

Well, at first glance, the above five principles look quite sufficient for European funded projects. All consortia sign a specific contract that has to be fully respected and follow a quite detailed plan that is based on key project actions and objectives for implementing the main scope of the project. These actions and objectives should be specific in order partners to know what they have to do in the project, measurable in order to support the assessment of their performance and allow internals and externals to know how well the project is progressing, achievable in order to ensure that the project can be completed, relevant so that they are based on facts and on EC funding priorities and in time in order to be delivered without delays.

But are SMART objectives at all adequate for delivering successful european projects and proposals for EC grants?

There is a specific principle that is missing from the SMART approach and without this, all proposals requesting EC grants as well as European funded projects are condemned to fail and fall in the valley of death.

What is valley of death?

Valley of Death is a metaphor for the place where most of the European projects end up because they have been based on SMART objectives. Most projects after the end of their funding period do not manage to advance their results and achievements to the society and economy so that these can benefit. On one hand, thankfully European Commission has realized that and now in the new programming funding period, 2013-2020, it requests specifically at a very early stage, even in the grant application form, the commitment of all proposed projects to specific expected benefits to society and economy (e.g. in Horizonplus they are specified as “Expected Impacts”). However, in case projects continue to follow only SMART objectives, it will be very difficult for them to achieve those promised expected benefits or impacts.


What is missing from SMART objectives and it is of paramount significance in EU projects?

The fundamental element that is missing from SMART objectives and weakens significantly the whole concept is INNOVATION!

Your objectives in European projects should be Innovative! Innovation should drive your proposal or project. You need to think outside the box, avoid reinventing the wheel and go beyond the current status quo.

Einstein wasn’t SMART when he initiated the theory of relativity. Steve Jobs wasn’t SMART when he introduced ipod or iphone. Wright Brothers were not SMART when they managed to construct successfully the first airplane. Newton was not SMART when he introduced the Gravity Theory. However, all these and many others that made a difference in economy and society had innovative objectives! They went against the status quo; they believed they can make the world better!

I always say to my students and to professionals that I coach that if they really wish to be successful in proposal writing and deliver projects with impact, they have to go against the status quo. They really need first to believe in their idea and consider it so innovative that they could go on with it, even if there is no funding available. I do that by using a small trick. I always ask them “you have an idea that you believe it is innovative and it can make a difference to society and economy and you wish to exploit some funding opportunities for going ahead. That is really great but tell me if tomorrow you win the lottery, would you still have as first priority to implement this idea or you would do something else?” If they answer that this will still be their first priority, then we go ahead with the second step and that is to check whether others can consider their idea innovative.

In any case, anyone that wishes to be successful in grant applications and exploit funding opportunities (Horizon 2020, Erasmusplus, Creative Europe, Europe for Citizens, Structural Funds, etc) should stop thinking SMART and initiate objectives that are innovative and motivate them to go ahead with their vision.

Do you have any ideas on how someone can be innovative? I would love to hear them!

 For more tips and hints in exploiting successfully EU funds, please check my personal website.



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8 thoughts on “Why SMART Objectives are NOT really Smart in EU Projects and in successful grant applications

  • ecultvalue Post author

    Hi, thanks a lot – hence one should call it “SMARTI” – but let me add one issue that in my view and experience might prove even more important that innovation: sustainability. It is time to stop “wasting” money from one project to the next without tangible results for the benefit of more than the consortium. So why not exchanging “specific” with “sustainable”?

  • Nikalai Dezin Post author

    Nikolaos Floratos

    Hello I very much time.что you try to help somehow with a project writing in the European funds. I am very grateful to you. But business in that I know English a little, the invalid pension very small and to study or something to do as understand there is no finance. May pension very small only 300 euros, and it it is necessary to pay apartment the rest hardly suffices I will drive, and the artificial limb is necessary. We have 26 years NGO “MILOSERDIE“
    Which tries to help somehow to invalids to adults and children. I хачу to ask you to help us in on the writing of the project and somehow still. We will be very glad to your arrival to us. To invalids and to see all the eyes. We wait for you and your help. I will fit piles of a photo for your viewing
    Yours faithfully Nikolai Dežin
    The founder and the head of a society

  • Mohamed Elabbar Post author

    Yes good project also my recommendation about that is sustainability and involved the Biodiversity is very important . hope to see the sectoral unites is involved to how make SMART grid for the next and future projects according my understand if correct please return to me again .BR

  • rene beijnen Post author

    Yes indeed it is a real challenge to get effects in society that goes beyond the project. All project partners have to be committed to reach out for political decisions to have project results actually implemented in policies. Interreg Europe focus on sharing solutions for improving regional and local policies by having actions plan implemented in Structural fund programs. I do think this is an effective approach but it stands or falls with politicians willing to implement and bringing Europe closer to its citizens.