Consultancy 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,
- Achievable or Attainable
- Realistic or Relevant and
- 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.