The ideation phase is where you lay out your initial ideas and start getting prepared for the actual writing of your project. It usually runs in parallel with the consortium building phase and can be prolonged until close to the end of the proposal writing, although this is not advisable, as will be clarified in the following. In summary, you will have to:
- Develop a sensible idea, fitting to the call you want to apply for.
- Discuss and shape it with the professor(s) who will sign up the submission.
- Discuss and negotiate it with potential consortium partners. And, finally,
- Describe it in the format of an abstract to guide the proposal writing.
Sources of ideas
Your proposal idea is most likely coming from your research interests and areas of expertise. After all, if you want to write a good proposal, you must be sure you master the topic - or at least are really well informed about it. In fact, your research interests will guide you in selecting the appropriate call you can potentially submit to.
Proposal ideas also come often from engagement in brainstorming and discussion with other colleagues in the group. So, make sure to get to know what others around you are doing and what synergies exist.
A third source of ideas is the actual call for proposals. Surveying the calls when they come out can serve as a spark for proposal writing. Therefore, even if you do not have any idea when the calls are advertised, do go through them and see whether any of the calls resonates with your interest. You might be surprised with the brilliant ideas that arises as you go on to read the calls.
Developing your proposal idea
The best way for you to develop your idea is to establish a mutual relationship between your research interests and the proposal call. This relationship must be nurtured and strengthened. You can start elaborating your ideas from your research interests alone or from a specific call.
The advantage of the latter approach is that you will be sure that there is indeed a call you can apply for. The former, on the other hand, will allow you to informally start talking with other people that can be potentially interest in it, so that when the call come out you already have a potential group of partners to compose your consortium. This will for sure buy you some time for the writing and things will possibly run smoother.
Independent from the approach you choose – or have the opportunity to engage in – make sure to work in identifying a set of keywords for defining your project. In case you find yourself in the first approach, these keywords will help you out to find the appropriate call for your idea. If the latter approach is the case, the keywords will help you out to have a general overview of what you can do in your approach.
The first approach for developing a proposal idea is especially suitable when you have already found synergies with other colleagues and you want to invest in it. We can always ‘predict’ the themes that will be part of the proposal calls repertoire by following the research trends through the latest publications in related areas and the analysis of the last calls. Sometimes the funding bodies also advertise drafts of the calls, so to give researchers a heads-up.
However, even if you have previously established a set of keywords before the advertisement of the calls, make sure to go through the call text afterwards and carefully identify the keywords from it, so to adjust your initial set. In case you start from the call, make sure to complement the keywords from the call with keywords coming from your research interest and areas of expertise, being careful not to extrapolate the purposes of the call.
Shaping your idea with the Professors
Please be aware that you will need a Professor to sign up your proposal application. Yes, you get it right! Although you are in charge of the proposal development and the articulations to construct a consortium and so on, you will not be able to submit it, unless you have someone with institutional ties other than being employed in a project to sign up your application. So, officially, the professors are the ones getting the grant!
Therefore, the earlier you discuss your ideas with them, the better. Remember that they are more experienced and will be able to provide you relevant advice on how to make your proposal more appealing. They will also make sure that the idea fits within the institute research areas and methodological stance. In case you are planning to start a new research area, this will possibly demand further negotiation.
Good news is: our Professor are open minded and very willing to help! So, take advantage of this and see it as an opportunity to learn from people who have already gone through many different challenges.
As soon as you have a set of keywords and a slight idea of what you want to do and why this is interesting, schedule a meeting with the Professor head of your group. Even if you still do not know whether your idea is strong enough to win a proposal, talk to them. The brainstorm will potentially open some horizons and help you clarify things – even if the first impression after the meeting is that this will not work out, believe. Sleep with the feedback you get, adjust your idea accordingly and talk with the Profs again.
Shaping the idea with the consortium partners
You will also need to shape your idea with the consortium partners. Discuss with them the research focus, the research goal, the methodological approach and the methodological approach. All partners must be comfortable with these issues, so that they can really make a contribution towards the project. Failing to discuss these issues at the very beginning might lead to problems with the consortium in the future.
Writing the abstract
As soon as you have your idea formed, sit down and write an abstract of your proposal, or delegate this task for another member of the consortium. This document will help you out in searching for partners for your consortium and will also to help to put together a first structure of your proposal application.
Make sure to include the following items in your abstract:
- Research context – briefly specify the theme of the research and its relevance.
- Research gap – clearly describe the gap in the literature or in the current developments that you are planning to address.
- Motivations – drawing on the relevance of the theme and the identified gap, make a strong case for your research proposal.
- Research focus – narrow down the focus of the project.
- Research goal – clearly specify what the outcomes of the project will be. Make sure to talk about the innovations the project will try to achieve and how the potential outcomes could be exploited in the future.
- Target group – identify the stakeholders of the project and the users of the technological solution to be designed and implemented, if at all.
- Methodological approach – outline the methodological approach that will be employed and briefly explain its feasibility to achieve the research goals.
You should aim to have an abstract ranging from 1 to 2 A4 pages. Keep it simple and straight forward. It is NOT your task to write the whole project as you are writing the abstract.
Do not forget to involve any (potential) partner already in the consortium iin the writing of the abstract.
How to build a consortium?