How best to approach and undertake H2020 reporting
Technical and financial interim reporting to the European Commission (EC) for Horizon 2020 projects is a big task and a complex process. Major responsibility for this reporting lies on the shoulders of the project coordination team. To complete this task in a timely and efficient manner, all project partners should support the project coordination team by fulfilling their tasks in accordance with the distribution of work specified in the project proposal and grant agreement.
As Project Manager, reporting is my role in the Horizon 2020 funded Bump2Baby and Me project, where we have multiple partners from the UK, Ireland, Spain, Denmark and Australia. Forward planning was key to ensure timely submission of the first interim report.
So what advice can I offer?
Firstly, it is important to know the requirements of reporting and expectations of the European Commission. The interim reporting related manual for H2020 projects is available online which is a good starting point to understand what is required and expected. This manual explains the type and structure of technical and financial reports required by the commission. Similarly, article 20 of the grant agreement also details reporting-related information, e.g., reporting periods, obligations, types of reports required etc., although this should be checked at the beginning!
Do not feel ashamed or afraid of asking for help if you need it. Reach out to any experienced project manager, EC project officer or experienced partner in the consortium who has already gone through this process. Their tips could save you hours of spade work. Remember: Often people are more than willing to provide help!
Following the guidance in the reporting manual and tips from others, project managers can create templates with the key information required and supporting material/slides to help partners understand what they need to contribute and to ensure consistency across the report. Prepare guideline slides to clearly define the timeline and the responsibilities of partners, including diagrams from the participant portal (grant management system) and video links of processes. Also, in the supporting material, it is important to highlight the consequences of non-compliance which could lead to suspension of any future payments and termination of the grant in the worst case.
Effective time management
Plan your time and provide all supporting material and templates well in advance of the EC’s deadline. While preparing the material, it’s a good idea for the project manager to send a heads-up email to all partners about upcoming reporting to the EC. Alongside managing your time, effective and timely communication is key here. The email accompanying all supporting documents should be concise and clear, stating the purpose in the first couple of sentences. Use the rest of the email body effectively to communicate your message, especially around internal deadlines and key dates.
Give people enough time to write their parts. Internal deadlines should be set in a way that not only give enough time to the partners to collate their reports or information but also give enough time to the project coordinator/manager to incorporate feedback and review it before the final submission deadline.
As financial reporting is a critical part of an interim report, it is good practice to ask leads at partner organisations, at the start of the project, to provide contact details of their financial contact responsible for completing their financial statement. This will help you make early contact with the finance office and ensure they know about the financial information that you may require.
As part of my progress tracking plan, I have found it useful to maintain a spreadsheet with contact details of all partner leads (and their finance officers), with other details like progress updates, any delays and remarks. This provides an overview of the whole process and quick access to contact information of any partner if required urgently.
Check with partners in case anyone does not understand what is required or is struggling to complete their part. It is a good idea to provide further support by organising one-to-one meetings with the partners.
A few days before the internal deadline, check in with partners, making sure they are on track to deliver on time and if they’re not, gently remind them about their obligations.
Once all information is returned, incorporate feedback carefully and proofread the report before sending it to the project coordinator for a final review and submission to the EC.
Regular project meetings like steering committee meetings, general assembly meetings and frequent communication throughout the project as well as one-to-one meetings with partners during the reporting period, help monitor and control the project’s work plan. This enables smooth running of the project and supports the successful write up of interim reports.
And then? Well, it’s just a waiting game to see if the report is approved and the next funding payment is released!
By Faisal Zahoor