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How to prepare a Plan for Dissemination and Exploitation including Communication activities

20th April 2022 at 9:53 am

Are you ready to learn what the Plan for Dissemination and Exploitation including Communication activities (PDEC) really means and why it is important to develop one for your Horizon Europe project? In a recent blog post, we explored the Grant Agreement preparation, with guidelines and tips to smoothly navigate through the process. Once that is under your belt, as much as it may seem that you reached the end of strategic planning, amid others, there is still a very important plan to be developed and delivered to the European Commission (EC) by the 6th month of the project: The PDEC. This plan is a key document that lays out and steers the project’s approach to disseminating and exploiting the project’s results as well as communicating about the research with various audiences. Central definitions around which the plan builds are integral parts of the Grant Agreement and following the Horizon 2020 funding programme, these remain a legal obligation of all beneficiaries:

Communication starts at the outset of the project and continues throughout its lifespan with the aim to promote the action and inform about the results to multiple audiences. Communication as the broadest term means to reach out to society and explain the research in a way that is understood by non-specialists.

Dissemination is focused on making the action’s results public by any means and the process starts only after these become available. Dissemination aims to transfer and circulate knowledge to the ones who can make the best use of it and further build on the project’s results to maximise the impact.

Exploitation can only start once the research results are available. It focuses on making concrete use of research results for commercial, societal, and political purposes. Depending on the nature and scope of the project, there is a wide spectrum of results that may be recognised as exploitable, including policy recommendations or standartisation activities.

As much as communication remains a requirement under Horizon Europe, with this funding programme, the EC emphasises the importance of dissemination and exploitation as crucial to ensure impact on three levels: scientific, societal, and economic. Furthermore, continuous reporting of communication, dissemination, and exploitation activities towards the EC is required throughout the entire course of the project and for dissemination and exploitation activities, project consortia are also required to continue such reporting after the project has ended, informing the EC of potentially exploitable results within one year from the project’s end. Scientists and projects’ consortia must hence choose wisely the ways by which they plan to share the research results and engage with various audiences.

One of the lessons that the EC has learned from Horizon 2020 is that making the PDEC an inseparable part of the project design from the start is crucial. Do you recall, from the proposal preparation stage, a new key element to the impact section – the Impact Canvas or Summary section? This summarises all key elements planned to support achievening the project’s expected impact, and key contributions to this are the dissemination, exploitation, and communication measures proposed. The PDEC to be developed once the project is underway, should build on what was already included in the proposal while further considering the project from an external perspective and bringing it and its results in reach of all relevant stakeholders.

Build the plan for your Horizon Europe project

The 5 stations of developing PDECs.
Figure 1: Framework conditions for developing PDEC inspired by SOSTAC model.

Are you now ready to start structuring the PDEC for your Horizon EU project? Excellent. Before you jump into the process though, bear in mind that there are a few key elements the plan must include: clear objectives and strategies, stakeholders, key messages, communication channels and tools, all planned communication, dissemination, and exploitation activities, a list of expected results that may be exploited with their description, ownership status, sector of application and protection measures as well as measures to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of performed activities.

Let’s step into this journey together and go through the main stations of the development process.

Station 1: Situation analysis

Where is your project now?

The first phase consists of setting out the situation analysis. Within this part, you should describe your project and the consortium expertise, including intellectual property (IP) relevant factors, such as background knowledge partners bring to the project, e.g. registered IP or not registered IP. Explain why the action is important and how it will generate an impact on different levels, including scientific, societal, and economic. If you have not done it at the proposal stage, it is worth performing a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis, followed by an assessment of other factors influencing your project. These should include political, economic, societal, technological, environmental, and legal (PESTEL) aspects. The situation analysis, including benchmarking to other relevant initiatives, will help you to better understand the needs of both the project and various target groups.

Station 2: Objectives

How do you want your project to make an impact?

In the second phase of the process, you should focus on the objectives that you wish to achieve through the implementation of communication, dissemination, and exploitation measures. When setting your goals, make sure that they are S.M.A.R.T.:

S.M.A.R.T. goal setting brings structure and tractability together and creates a verifiable trajectory towards clear milestones as well as providing an estimated timeline to attain the goals.

Station 3: Stakeholders and strategy

How will you meet your goals?

In the third phase, the focus is on the initially identified stakeholders, meaning individuals or organisations that are affected or affect your project and have an interest in it or its results. Conducting a stakeholder analysis is a great starting point to define where to focus your efforts. There are three steps to follow. First, identify who your stakeholders are. The main groups of stakeholders in EU funded projects include but are not limited to the scientific community including other EU-funded projects, relevant industry representatives, funding agencies, policymakers, end users, and the public at large. Further target groups will be project-specific and should be identified considering the nature of the project and its scope. Secondly, ensure that their needs towards the project are addressed, define their influence and interest. By mapping these on an influence vs. insterest matrix, you will get a clear view of which groups you should prioritise for different activities. Finally, develop a good understanding of the most important stakeholders, including their preferred way of receiving information (platforms) and communication (language used, e.g. jargon, layman language). Knowing your target audiences and their expectations will allow you  to better tailor key messages, which are based on the previously defined objectives, and define adequate measures to reach each of them in the most effective manner.

Station 4: Methods and activities

What do you need to do to reach your objectives?

In the fourth phase, we move towards implementation. With the strategies for dissemination, exploitation, and communication designed, it is time to describe the methods and actions through which you will roll out these strategies. Methods refer to channels and tools you will use to convey key messages to target audiences as well as to processes you put in place to facilitate the uptake of the research results. Processes should consider Open Science practices and obligations towards the EC, such as visibility of EU funding or responsibility of informing consortium members when disclosing research results. A key part of methods also lies in effectively managing the project’s resources. This includes the adequate contribution of all partners to the PDEC, defining roles and responsibilities as well as considering the management of IP and foreseen protection measures, such as patents, design rights, copyright, etc. and how they will be used to support the exploitation of the research results. With activities you should provide a catalogue of planned dissemination, exploitation, and communication measures tailored to different target audiences. It is also important to build on the partners’ expertise and existing networks to maximise the impact. For example, if you are involved in a health project, one of the groups you want to address may be patients. The best way to reach out to this group would be to involve any relevant patient organisation that is already a partner in the project and benefit from their expertise when designing activities that may be of interest to the considered audience.

Station 5: Control

How will you monitor and evaluate impact or your activities?

A key point to be considered in the development process of the PDEC is assessment. Over the time span of the action, project- or target group-related factors might change. Some activities will prove effective, others less so. Monitoring and evaluation of the effectiveness of communication, dissemination, and exploitation activities are thus important aspects and as such should be considered from the beginning. Moreover, as success can only be measured against defined objectives, the criteria measuring the achievement of these objectives, called Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), must also be included in the plan with specific targets. Online and digital channels and media often offer integrated tools (analytics) to measure their impact over longer periods. While these are important and support quantitative assessment, the consideration of interlinkages/interdependencies of multiple activities is also important to consider for a more comprehensive assessment. For example, an increase in the number of visitors to the project website does not necessarily mean that the website is meeting its targets, it could be linked to a new publication, which increased interest and drew more visitors to the website. In this context, measuring these indicators regularly is important to understand if and how progress is being made or whether additional or different measures must be implemented. Continuous monitoring and evaluation not only provide the opportunities to learn from past experiences and to build upon more successful endeavors, but also help you to meet the contractual obligation of the Grant Agreement to regularly update the PDEC, including at the end of the project.  If despite the best efforts, no uptake of the research results happens within 1 year after the end of the project, then exploitable results must be made available through the Horizon Results Platform.

Final destination – a comprehensive plan

Congratulations! You reached your final destination in setting up a PDEC. The next step is making things happen.

While developing a comprehensive Plan for Dissemination and Exploitation including Communication activities is a key element of your EU-funded project, there are more facets to consider when disseminating and exploiting your results. In the coming months, our experienced team will publish diverse blog posts offering guidance and tips for you to implement in the communication, dissemination, and exploitation of your own research or innovation.

Would you like to have us on board for your project? Contact our specialists for more information.

Joanna Plesniak
Project Manager Communications

Dr. Emily Rose Ciscato
Project Manager Communications

Julia Götz
Project Manager Communications