Impact is on the Horizon


How can the European Commission develop a more sophisticated approach to impact and stimulate the impact of the projects it funds in the next Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (FP9)? LERU has seventeen concrete suggestions for the Commission. They are discussed in a new note published by LERU today.

Some of LERU’s key recommendations are that the Commission should:

  • develop a clear set of definitions of concepts related to impact, and their interactions – in a debate with stakeholders and with the help of an expert working group;
  • develop new mechanisms to increase the impact of FP9, for example by orchestrating “project clustering”, by creating “synthesis projects” and by providing impact-oriented “follow-up” funding;
  • change their approach to the expected impact statement by focusing on potential outcomes and pathways to impact, instead of asking beneficiaries to pin down impact as such;
  • refrain from using a linear model of impact (such as the currently used TRLs) and refrain from over-engineering impact, while finding ways to appropriately balance impact assessment by quantitative measurements (using indicators), with qualitative assessment, even at project level;

Impact is a complex and multi-faceted phenomenon, the measuring of which requires sophistication and a diversity of approaches, as LERU has already argued in its 2017 paper ‘Productive interactions: societal impact of academic research in the knowledge society’.

A widely accepted definition of impact and related concepts such as output and outcomes is required. LERU is convinced that more is needed than what is currently provided by the better regulation guidelines and proposes that the Commission works with stakeholders to come to a common understanding. FP applicants, Commission staff and evaluators should be well-informed to use the terms correctly.

Pinning down impact at application stage is impossible. Requiring applicants to fully articulate the expected impact from their project is both impractical and speculative. The biggest weight for the evaluation of applications should therefore continue to be on the quality of the proposal, the ‘excellence’. The ERC is a proven success on how the focus on funding the very best very often leads to real impact, even without a focus on impact at application stage. For the global challenges and innovation pillar in FP9, LERU proposes a different approach to expected impact, focusing on potential outcomes and looking further forward to different forms of impact and knowledge production. The UK concept of ‘Pathways to Impact’ would be an interesting source of inspiration for such a renewed approach.

Next to developing a different approach to expect impact, LERU recommends the Commission focuses its effort on further stimulating the impact of the projects it funds. An important premise is that the Commission engages more with these projects and dedicates more staff to do this, preferably staff with a research background. Three mechanisms are proposed for increasing impact of FP funding: 1) clustering projects that work on similar topics, to support knowledge exchange, interaction and interdisciplinarity; 2) synthesis projects to identify and fill research gaps in thematic areas; and 3) follow-up or impact funding to test market potential or societal impact.

“A draft version of the note was already discussed with the European Commission in January and we are pleased to see some of our suggestions appearing in the FP9 draft documents”, says Professor Kurt Deketelaere, Secretary-General of LERU. “Many impact related issues will only be dealt with in preparation for the implementation of FP9, but for the FP9 regulation that will be published early June, the indicators proposed still need to be a crucial point of attention. The Commission should design a system of indicators which would enable accountability and monitor progress whilst at the same time enhancing the environment for creativity and serendipity.” Deketelaere continues: “The best way forward would be to assemble experts to discuss this as soon as possible. LERU would be pleased to contribute to those discussions and looks forward to continue its dialogue with the Commission on all issues addressed in the note.” 

Read the note


  • Prof. Kurt Deketelaere, LERU Secretary-General,  or +32 499 80 89 99 
  • Laura Keustermans, Senior Policy Officer,  or +32 476 97 73 04 
  • Media contact: Bart Valkenaers, Policy Officer,  or +32 498 08 43 49