In the course of the preparatory action the question aroused how, given limited funding only, a large community can not only be maintained in the sense of a classic networking activity but actually produce meaningful research results exploiting the synergies between the involved groups. The question was driven by the immediate need to sustain community built up for the Flagship call and leverage it for meaningful research with funding instruments order of magnitude below the original Flagship vision. As a solution we have come up with the notion of collaborative micro-project.
A collaborative microproject should:
- Involve a small group of researchers (2–5) from different partner institutions
- Coming together to work together at a single location for a limited period of time (1–6 months)
- Aiming to solve a well-defined problem related to a specific scientific/technological challenge
Microprojects should always have to produce a tangible result, such as a scientific publication, dataset, toolbox, demonstrator, or integration of a toolbox. Microprojects should be situated within WPs devoted to different parts of the project agenda. Each WP must have dedicated funds for microprojects, which it can distribute through a lightweight internal proposal system based on quality and contribution to the WP agenda. Microprojects can be conducted between WPs (with each WP contributing part of the funds) and should have the possibility of including external partners through appropriate mechanisms.
The concept of microprojects has multiple advantages.
It is well-known that assembling a group of researchers at a single location with no distractions but a project they care about is highly effective. Thus, providing several partners with 6 person months (PMs) each to be used loosely collaborating on a 3-year project often produces little tangible results. On the other hand, if those 6 PM per partner are used to ensure that people from the respective groups spend a total of 6 months being together at a single location doing nothing else but working on a well-defined, joint project, then they can really accomplish something meaningful.
The collaborative aspect of microprojects—bringing together people from different partners—ensures that research can focus on breakthroughs and developments that leverage the synergies between the competences of the partners and would not be possible without the project. It is an essential component the vision of creating a “multiplier effect,” where a relatively small investment represented by the microproject creates a much larger effect. Thus, pieces of know-how distributed over different partner institutions may have little impact individually, but may amount to a significant innovation/breakthrough, with a value far beyond the funds invested in the microproject that gathered them.
Designing for new research
As researchers go back to their institutions after the microproject, they will bring the results back with them, making them part of their future research (e.g., PhD work), sharing them with colleagues, and using them in proposals. This is another component of the multiplier effect, as the knowledge will help progress on each site, shape further research at each site, and lead to new proposals, including national and industrially supported proposals.
The above is an extremely effective mode of collaboration and an activity that creates strong, sustainable links not just on institutional but also on personal levels. Another advantage of the approach is that it combines three important concerns of most large scale, Europe wide research initiatives: (1) producing tangible results towards a specific research agenda, (2) strengthening links between various stakeholders Europe wide, and (3) spreading knowledge throughout Europe, with the same funds furthering all three aims.