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Horizon 2020 interim evaluation – three years in

The European Commission has published, on 29 May, the results of the interim evaluation of the Horizon 2020 (H2020) programme, tracking progress made, in the first three years of the programme period, towards reaching the key programme objectives. The interim evaluation has been started in 2016, and supported by a public stakeholder consultation completed in January 2017 (counting 3 500 responses and approx. 300 position papers, as well as a roadmap summarising the design and purpose of the evaluation in May 2016), by internal assessments, by advice from expert groups and thematic evaluation studies. The consolidated results of the interim evaluation are to support both the improved implementation of Horizon 2020 in the remaining programme period and to inform the design of the future EU research and innovation framework programme.

The review concludes that the programme has been most notably successful in attracting highly-qualified researchers from across the globe, with stakeholders having assessed the programme as bringing higher added value than national programmes. Simplifications over the years have helped speed up grant-awarding processes to an average of 192 days (i.e. 100 days faster than in the 7th Framework Programme). Nevertheless, the increasing attractiveness of Horizon 2020 combined with an increased focus on large-scale projects, has left the grant-application success rate at a low, 11.6%.  With many “excellent” projects having to be turned down because of lack of sufficient funds, appropriate funding levels remain a key factor to be addressed also in the future. 

In more detail, the interim evaluation shows that:

  • H2020 has been successful in attracting the best researchers, to the extent that it could have spent four times its budget in support of excellent projects.
  • Participants represent over 130 different countries, of which 50% are newcomers, not having taken part in the predecessor – 7th  Framework Programme for Research (FP7).
  • The number of applications has increased by 65% annually, compared to FP7, amounting to 100 000 in total.
  • There was a drop in success rates, with some parts of the programme showing significant underfunding, as an additional EUR 60 billion would have been needed to support all proposals that had received the score of "excellent".  
  • Added value is clearly demonstrated in comparison to national and regional support schemes, with 83% of projects not having materialised without the EU funding.

The mid-term review also highlights further areas and ideas for improvement, such as scaling-up breakthroughs, supporting further innovation, particularly by SMEs, and a need to increase public involvement in agenda-setting.

With 11 000 projects funded so far, of which only under 10% have been finalised (and with their budget taking up less than 0.6% of the total for the programme period), the interim evaluation results are informative, but not yet conclusive, as it is too early to draw conclusions on the final impact of Horizon 2020.  

As for the next steps, in October 2017, the European Commission is expected to release a communication on the key results of the interim evaluation, taking into account a report to be published at beginning of July by the High Level Group on maximizing the impact of EU Research and Innovation programmes, as well as recommendations of the FP7 ex-post evaluation.

European Commission – Executive summary of the interim evaluation of Horizon 2020

European Commission – Horizon 2020 Interim Evaluation Results – All key documents

European Commission – Results of the Horizon 2020 public consultation