For many grant schemes, you are required to form a strong and complementary consortium with partners from different backgrounds, for example in academia, industry, or policy. Such a consortium of interdisciplinary partners enhances (inter)national collaboration and extends research possibilities. But what constitutes a good consortium? How large should it be? And which partners should you choose to realise your project idea?
Below, we will discuss some of the characteristics of an ideal consortium:
Good consortia bring together differential yet complementary expertise. Often, a balanced mix of academic and industrial partners will do, whereas sometimes you may want to include other partners as well. For example, within the life sciences you are often expected to include patient advocacy organisations and when tackling a societal problem, it is a good idea to involve policy makers. You should also balance differences in disciplinary background, seniority, gender, location, and type of institution as much as possible. The best composition of your consortium strongly depends on the chosen funding instrument, and the specific call and topic. Therefore, it is important to study the call text closely.
- International character
Consortia within the European funding instruments, such as Horizon 2020/Europe, should be built with partners from different member and associated countries. The call text provides a minimum number of participating countries and outlines which countries are eligible for which roles. A good geographical spread can make your consortium stronger, so try to include partners from across Europe. When choosing partners it might be good to think about differences between countries/systems that relate to your project so you can make sure that diversity that might impact your project is included and can be taken into account as part of the project.
- Excellence and strong leadership
Needless to say, excellent people can make an excellent consortium. First of all, the consortium leader should be a leader in their field and manifest strong leadership. Ideally, partners should also be among the leaders in their field and have a strong network. Approach such key partners early, or they might be “stolen” by another consortium. Also, try to broaden your view of excellence. An experienced, but very busy professor might seem like the best pick, but a young upcoming scientist can bring similar expertise and will bring more enthusiasm and involvement. Again, the right balance is key.
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a universal, optimal consortium size. It depends on many factors, such as the specific call, the topic, and the research plan. As a result, consortium size can range from around 3 to over 20 partners. Try to provide a nice balance of partners that optimally complement each other (see below) and do not grant every interested party a spot in your consortium. Often, less is more!
- Complementary expertise
It is important to balance the expertise within your consortium. Two academic partners that work on the same topic might seem a good match, but their expertise is likely too similar. Conversely, a partner that can give you the necessary technological expertise, but does not understand the research, might be too distant. Ideally, you want informed partners that add unique value to your consortium. Such complementarity is an important factor to consider when forming a consortium and it might mean having to make painful decisions.
- Clear roles
Since each partner brings in a unique feature, such as a specific type of knowledge or technology, they should also have a clear, distinguishable role in the work plan. You can keep track of this with a list of the partners involved in each Work Package. Again, balance is key: You do not want consortium partners that either have no role or take up half the work.
Your consortium should be diverse but manageable in order to provide optimal circumstances for collaboration. This is why many consortia include a Work Package on project management and hire a dedicated project manager. Manageability of a consortium is determined by factors such as consortium size, international differences, involvement, and complementarity of the partners.
- Research focus
Last but not least, your research plan should be solid, feasible, innovative, and fitting with the call. A strong focus on an important, societally relevant issue helps, as well as a well-thought-out plan describing how you will achieve your goals and reach societal impact.
At Evers + Manders we have longstanding expertise in building consortia. We know what funding agencies are looking for, how to best approach partners, and how to make the right choices in complementing and strengthening your consortium. We are happy to help you!