insights from our partners Result-based management for “Project Design for Impact” in the Horizon Europe Programmes

The most significant change from Horizon 2020 to Horizon Europe is the significance of the “Impact section” in the design and application for collaborative EU funded projects. This change resulted from the evaluation process of the EU funding programmes which highlighted the fact that majority of implemented projects could not demonstrate social or industrial impact as their results. In order to address this issue, the Horizon Europe funded projects have to be streamlined for impact from its design and this has to be demonstrated in the application.

This impact-oriented approach is different from the usual academic research which oftentimes is explorative in nature. As such, academics oftentimes struggle to develop project proposals that will demonstrate strong impact of their proposed intervention. In fact, our research on university-business collaboration indicates that the skills in designing impact-oriented projects/research are highly valued by European universities and business, but are, at the same time, quite rare to find in individuals.

Although our forthcoming Training Programme and the Toolkit will incorporate a module on this topic, here we offer an introduction to a tool that can be used when thinking about a project and its intervention and how to design it for impact. Namely, academics have an in-depth understanding of the issue they want to address as well as the interconnections such issue has in diverse aspects. The design for impact requires a careful consideration about these interconnections, listing causes and effects in particular way and thinking about why a project is necessary from the standpoint of its direct users and beneficiaries.

A good tool to think about potential impact is the Result-Based Management (RBM) framework (see the RBM handbook by UN Habitat here). This framework is quite useful because it is focused on achieving results and creating a logical matrix as the base of a planned project intervention. Results are effects of an intervention that occur on three different levels: outputs, outcomes and impact. Outputs are products that directly results from an intervention. For example, a research study conducted and published on a specific topic. The next level of results are outcomes, which present the mid-term effects of an intervention. Outcomes are foreseen changes that build upon outputs but are not solely depended on them and thus are harder to control. For example, outcomes are the knowledge that has been taken from the research into practice of a targeted population. The third level of results is the impact, which is the ultimate reason why an intervention is taking place. In our example, the impact would be change in behaviors, practices or addressed needs that occurred due to the new knowledge produced and applied. Thus, the impact is the long-term change that stemmed out of a project intervention.

However, it is important to highlight that when thinking about impact, taking a human-centered approach is quite important. This approach allows us to think from the standpoint of project beneficiaries. However, rather than starting with a solution, considering the problem and thinking about people and diverse stakeholders involved in the situation is important. How are different stakeholders involved in problem and what do they want? What kind of changes are currently underway and what kind of opportunities they bring? How does your proposed project utilize existing opportunities for impact? How will you provide value for different stakeholders?

In fact, the most important question to answer in the impact section is demonstrating the value the project implementation will bring forth to its project beneficiaries. What kind of value the project will create? How will this new value bring benefits to project beneficiaries and various stakeholder relevant for the issue your project is addressing?

In order to provide a good response to those questions, it is important to consider how value is created and generated in different domains. Considering the fact that majority of Horizon Europe projects entails some sort of knowledge production, taking into account scientific impact in the field is oftentimes easier to define. However, an important next step is to pinpoint the industrial, societal, economic, and technological impact as well. When considering these different aspects of impact, connection to the EU missions and priorities should be taken into account.

Result-based management handbooks:

ICRC, Programme/project management: The results-based approach, 2008

UN Habitat, Results-Based Management Handbook, 2017

The World Bank, Designing a results framework for achieving results: A how-to guide, 2012

Author: Elma Demir

Blog editors: Fleur Schellekens and Alexandra Zinovyeva

Headerphoto by @charlybron on Unsplash

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