Navigating the DESCA Model: Best Practices for Setting Up a Consortium Agreement
6th October 2023 at 2:20 pm
Has your project been approved for funding by the EU? Congratulations! Now you have up to three months to sign the Grant Agreement (GA) for your project. In addition, your consortium must prepare and sign a separate Consortium Agreement. Avid readers of our blog already know that the gold standard to use is the Model Consortium Agreement published by the DESCA Core Group, and this has remained true until today. The DESCA Core Group brings together eight expert institutions, aiming to balance the interests of all participant categories: large and small firms, universities, public research institutes and RTOs .
Previously, the CA was required to be signed before the start of the project. Especially in projects with large consortia above ten partners, this had already posed a challenge. However, the EU requirements have been updated and it is now recommended to execute the CA before the signature of the GA. From our most recent experiences, the timely execution of the CA is indeed important and followed up on by the EU. In practice, there are often a few months between the date of the GA signature and the project start. This means the timeline for the preparation and signature of the CA has become even tighter. Not to worry, though, our tips below will help you achieve this goal in due time.
Streamlining the Consortium Agreement
1. Start early
Common practice was to start with the preparations for the CA once the preparations for the GA were well underway. With the recent recommendation, however, you may want to start drafting the CA earlier, shortly after commencing work on the GA. Most experienced partners are familiar with the DESCA model. Thus, we recommend clearly marking your changes and/or additions, providing everyone with a smoother experience.
2. Choose the correct DESCA model
The DESCA core group offers two different models: one that can be used if your project involves associated partners, and one that does not include specific rules for the participation of associated partners. Both models can be downloaded from the DESCA website.
3. First draft
If you are the project coordinator, carefully review the DESCA model, considering the nature and structure of the project. For example, choosing between the DESCA’s proposed models for the governance structure and access rights regulations allows tailoring the CA to your project’s specific needs. Additionally, we recommend including a suggestion for the non-disclosure agreement to be concluded with members of your Advisory Board in Attachment 5 of the model CA. Special attention should already be paid to the following Sections:
- Governance Structure (Section 6): The DESCA models provide different grounds for projects implemented by smaller or larger consortia. If your consortium counts more than ten partners, we surely recommend using the larger model. Next to the General Assembly, this will add an additional consortium body to your structure: The Executive Board (usually composed of all work package leaders) will manage the project implementation and make proposals for larger decisions to the General Assembly. If you think your project may benefit from a Management Support Team (MST), who can help with administrative tasks, include provisions for the MST as soon as possible.
- Payments (Section 7): If all partners should receive their full share of the first payment distributed by the EU (the so-called pre-financing), choose this option presented in the DESCA model. Does your project require a more intricate solution? Make use of the proposed template or build your own solution. In our experience with projects involving a clinical trial, it has been rewarding to have a different payment schedule for clinical partners. Should they, for whatever reason, be unable to meet the recruitment targets, the CA can allow the retention of funds to decrease the risk to the clinical trial.
- Access Rights (Section 9): Does your project involve exchanging and/or giving access to specific software? Consider choosing the amended, longer version of Section 9.8 that can be found at the end of the DESCA model.
4. Sending the draft to the consortium
The CA will go through multiple rounds of revisions. If possible, a first draft should be sent to the consortium 6-8 weeks before the GA signature. As mentioned, remember to clearly mark your changes and additions. Along with your first draft, we recommend including a list of tasks as well as a clear deadline for all partners for the first revision of the CA. Apart from reviewing the entire document, partners should add their legal addresses on the first page of the document, identify any “Background included” (Attachment 1) and, if necessary, name their “Entities under the same control” (Attachment 4).
5. Improving your CA
Based on the input received from the consortium, improve the draft, again clearly marking all changes along with comments explaining the reasoning. Include any questions or suggestions raised by consortium members in comments to the related section to ensure transparency and facilitate a smooth process. In your email, state clear action points for the consortium to go through and set a deadline. This process should be repeated until all parts of the CA have been agreed upon. If needed, set up a meeting with the relevant contact points of each partner to address any questions or points of discussion.
6. Execution of the CA
Once the CA is approved by all partners, it must be formally signed. If local laws allow the digital execution of the CA, consider adding such provisions to the document. This will avoid acquiring physical signatures and collecting hard-copies from each partner, saving you valuable time in the fast-paced process towards the execution. Upon receipt of all signatures, create a version containing each partner’s signature and distribute it to the relevant contacts in your consortium.
Overall, the newly imposed deadline for the execution of the CA does provide a significant challenge to consortia. However, with our tips above, you will be able to guide your consortium through a well-organised process and ensure every partner’s needs are met.
Support for your grant preparation
We cannot only help you with proposal writing or project management, but we also offer support for the process in between the grant agreement preparation. Our team at accelopment has successfully guided project partners through the grant preparation process already in the FP7, throughout H2020, and currently 20 Horizon EU projects.
Research & Innovation Project Manager
Research & Innovation Project Associate