Horizon 2020: Important Info about 2-stage Evaluations

The ever-helpful folk at UKRO have obtained provisional guidance on the way significant changes will be treated at stage one and two of a two-stage evaluation.


As stated in the European Commission’ guide to proposals submission and evaluation’: ‘the full proposal must be consistent with the short outline proposal [submitted at stage one] and may not differ substantially.’

The rationale behind this rule is to ensure  that there is fair and equal treatment of competing proposals and to prevent applicants from deliberately setting out false promises in the first stage that are not reflected in their second stage proposals.

Applicants submitting proposals at stage two are now asked in the application form if any significant changes have been made since the previous submission and are required to tick the relevant boxes referring to changes made to the budget, partnerships, approach or the work plan, as well as to describe these in detail. However, since no exact definition of ‘substantial differences’ has been provided by the Commission, many applicants were struggling with the new question in the application forms.

UKRO has sought informal guidance from the European Commission and as a result of this we understand that assessments of the changes made between stages one and two are done on a case-by-case basis, since each situation is different, and that there is no official guidance on this particular issue provided to the evaluators. The justifications given in the application form will of course be considered as part of the usual evaluation process.

It is important to remember that the stage one evaluation only concerns the criteria ‘excellence’ and ‘impact’ (in relation to the expected impact statement in the work programme). It does not cover the make-up of the consortium (except for the minimum number of partners needed for eligibility), nor the detailed work plan. Therefore, as any outline proposal is developed into a full proposal there is likely to be some form of evolution. When this results in differences compared to the outline proposal then it is the interest of the applicant to ensure that they have described the changes and the reason behind the changes.

Applicants are asked to provide details regarding changes in budget or partnerships, but these on their own would not normally constitute a substantial difference.

UKRO understands that the following examples might be considered a substantial change by the Commission services:

  • conceptual basis, or methodology, has completely changed;
  • objectives of the work have been significantly altered (especially if the degree of innovation/advance beyond the state-of-the-art is greatly reduced);
  • expected impact no longer corresponds at all to that set out at stage one.

If in doubt, applicants can indicate that changes have been made to the proposals by ticking the relevant boxes and later explaining in the pop up text boxes that these do not constitute significant differences.

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