“Thanks to us, project development is more agile”
Cristina Catalina, an expert in European project management, explains the advantages of relying on Zabala Innovation for management, communication, exploitation of results and social innovation
Writing a good R&D project to obtain the European funding it deserves is not easy. But finding a consultancy firm capable not only of taking on this task but also of getting involved in its management and the different stages of its development, is quite a challenge. “Every time we take part in projects, we notice that their implementation is faster and smoother, which results in better achievement of objectives,” stresses Cristina Catalina, an expert in European project management at Zabala Innovation.
What role can Zabala Innovation play in the projects in which it is a partner?
Firstly, we can take care of project management, a task in which our technical consultants are involved. Secondly, a group of professionals with experience in communication and journalism can lead the dissemination and communication process. Thirdly, we can carry out the tasks of exploiting the results, which are carried out by a group of specialised consultants. And fourthly, we have the necessary competencies to carry out the tasks linked to the social innovation of the project from our knowledge area on this topic.
Can you give an example of this?
We are currently partners in 48 projects. One of them is Naima, which aims to create a new generation of sodium composite batteries. This material has two advantages over the commonly used element lithium: it is much cheaper and does not need to be imported. Funded with 8 million euros under the Horizon 2020 programme (the precursor to Horizon Europe), Naima will run for 42 months, until May 2023. Its consortium is coordinated by Tiamat, a start-up created by the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) and the French Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS). It involves the most important European players in the field of batteries.
What does Zabala Innovation do in Naima?
In this project, we are in charge of management, dissemination and communication, and exploitation of results. We are observing that, in general, these last two functions are increasingly in demand when it comes to setting up a project consortium. It is common for research centres to already have a department directly in charge of management. On the other hand, it is more difficult to find partners with expertise in dissemination, communication and exploitation of results.
How did this project come about?
The CEA launched an offer to participate in a project it wanted to present for funding in Horizon 2020 led by the company Tiamat. We began to accompany them in drafting the proposal and it was during the profile analysis phase to find expert partners that we realised that we could offer to cover these three missing roles.
In terms of project management, what does Zabala Innovation do in Naima?
We accompany the coordinator in the management tasks, i.e.: we monitor the status of the project; we collaborate in the justification of expenses and drafting of reports for submission to the European Commission; we carry out risk management and monitoring of contingency plans; and we collaborate in the interaction with the European Commission (we collect information, prepare documents, accompany in meetings, and prepare agendas, reports, planning…). We also support all the partners in any kind of doubts (eligible expenses, analysis of technical and economic deviations, exit or entry of a partner, elaboration of addenda, etc.).
How is the dissemination and communication work carried out?
We draft and implement the dissemination and communication strategy. We create the entire image of the project (logo, website, etc.). We take care of the social networks and write and send newsletters. We take care of networking to be in contact with other projects and we can also organise workshops, info days… We aim to make the project visible beyond the battery community, at the European and international levels.
What does the exploitation of results consist of?
Zabala Innovation’s role is to define an exploitation plan. First of all, we identify the most promising results with the potential for exploitation. To do this, we meet with each of the partners (both industrialists and the research centre). Once this stage has been completed, we draw up an individual exploitation plan. We can also advise them on intellectual property rights so that they can find the most appropriate way to benefit from the results, whether through a patent, royalties or another system.
Even if you don’t do it at Naima, can you explain how the tasks linked to the social innovation part are generally carried out?
The European Commission’s strategy in Horizon Europe – reflected in the different topics of which this programme is composed – is to involve civil society so that it is asked to participate in and influence the development of the projects. It makes perfect sense, since, in the end, it is necessary to conceive projects as an improvement for citizens. At Zabala Innovation we have all the necessary tools to involve civil society through participatory processes such as surveys and workshops, among many others.
We are doing so in Immerse, a research project aimed at mapping the integration of refugee and migrant children in Europe. Or in DigiEcoQuarry, where we set up participatory processes to better communicate about a mining project, to obtain better acceptance from the populations involved. And we did it in Rezbuild, a five-year project that ended in January 2022, where we sought feedback from tenants and owners of sustainably refurbished homes in Madrid, Oslo and Venice.
How does Zabala Innovation usually enter a consortium?
In several ways. The most common is that the idea of becoming a partner in a project arises after our involvement in the drafting of the proposal. The client hires us to accompany them in this task and, when we go to look for the profiles needed to set up a solid and efficient consortium, if the coordinator does not have much experience in project management, it is very logical that they ask us to collaborate in this facet as well.
But we also offer to do dissemination and communication, exploitation of results and social innovation, skills and knowledge that are not common to find in a consultancy firm with specialised profiles.
What is the differential value of Zabala Innovation as a partner in the project?
We have often found that the entities that lead a project are extremely capable from a technical point of view, but less so in terms of organisation and coordination, especially in the initial phases and when the consortium is made up of many partners who know little about each other.
In contrast, we have been involved not only in the preparation of proposals but also in the management and development of European projects for more than 36 years. In this way, our participation as partners makes the process start faster, smoother and more agile and produces better results, while also meeting the objectives set by the European Commission. And it saves the other partners’ efforts and allows them to fully focus on what they do best.