"It is just not only about a good idea": how and why to submit to the EU programme
— Egle, please tell us, what are the main goals and core values of the Creative Europe Programme, and what is it possible to change in Europe and Ukraine?
— The Creative Europe Programme is not the first and not the only EU programme to support culture and creative industries. Creative Europe merged two previous ‘Culture and MEDIA’ programmes with a new cross-sectoral strand containing a Guarantee Facility that should be launched quite soon. The EU wants to support actions and activities with European benefits in the cultural and creative sectors. It will contribute to the achievement of the objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy and its flagship initiatives. If we work together throughout Europe, we can do and achieve much more.
Talking about the programme priorities, I really do appreciate the fact that a lot of evidence- based decisions were adopted in advance. Talking of various research works, interim evaluations of previous programmes, policy papers, discussions with the CCS, etc., four main challenges that the sectors face today were highlighted.
The first one is the digital shift, which gives a variety of new possibilities, but is also a challenge.
Technologies open up a lot of opportunities but, on the other hand, they have changed the way we access culture and how we enjoy it. Culture and creative sectors have to adapt to these digital shifts to become more effective, and also to use digital technologies in, for example, promoting and spreading cultural products. The second one is market fragmentation relating to linguistic diversity. The third challenge is access to funding. Because of the specifics of culture and creative sectors, it is challenging to get loans or receive additional funding. So, in that sense the EU is investing and helping CCS and investors work together. And the fourth challenge is the lack of comparable data. In the EU, we really quite often face lots of statistical data, but we don’t have just one approach to compare the situation. The Programme also tries to help and support better and more comparable collection of data. In overall terms, “Creative Europe” is supposed to try to solve all of these issues and has a variety of schemes and strands.
— How can one submit a successful application for the Creative Europe/Culture sub-programme? Who is eligible? Should it be cultural institutions or culture managers?
— There are two main requirements for applicants. Legal organisations that exist at least two years before the application deadline can take part, so the programme is not open for individuals. The organisation must also be active in culture and the creative sector – this should be stated in the statutes or registration documents. During the application process, you are asked to prove this in terms of providing your activity reports from the last two years.
It is really nice that it’s not only for the EU member states. All twenty-eight of them are taking part, but we also have Iceland and Norway as members of the European Economic Area, acceding countries, candidate countries, so it’s mostly all of the Balkan states, and Turkey too. Since 2014, the programme has been open to the European Neighbourhood Policy countries, so they are also welcome to take part, but it depends on which countries sign memorandums and which do not. At the moment, we have Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, which is really fantastic.
All institutions have to decide whether to be leaders or partners. What is the difference between project leader and partner? It works like this: one organisation from the consortium must be in a position as a leader, it means that they are the ones who sign the agreement with the European Commission, and it is their overall responsibility for all the management and finances of the project.
— So the leader would have more responsibilities within the project.
— Yes, in a certain way, because there is always one organisation responsible for the whole consortium and it signs the agreement with the EC.
— What about the role of partners?
— They have to share responsibilities with the leader not only in financial terms, but also in terms of idea development, implementation of various activities, communication and dissemination activities. What is really important to stress is that in the Culture sub-programme the issue here is cooperation and not formal communication. What we are looking for is really about culture professionals, organisations working together in their respective sector or in a cross-sectoral way and trying to achieve common goals in the context of the programme priorities.
— What should you pay attention to when choosing partners for the application, because it’s a very important part of the application process for any cultural institution?
— I think it’s quite logical. You really might want to work with people you know and trust. We have a number of examples when not all of the partners know each other, but they know some of them. On the other hand, we sometimes have examples of completely new people, who have never met before, and they succeed. Each case is unique and specific, but as in life itself, it’s better to start with those you know and trust. There are also a number of available partner search tools and databases, which can be used by everyone, who would like to join the programme.
— What should candidates start from? What should they know before they start the application process?
— The minimum that you should know, and this is really strong advice, is to read the guidelines carefully as well as the call of proposals and all the rules. It takes time to make a nice application, so if you miss certain rules and you become ineligible at the end of the process, because you failed to read a few pages, that would be a huge disappointment. Or if you misunderstand the idea of the programme… The extra advice from my side would be to try to understand what the EU agenda is, what is important for the EU? What is important for European culture and creative sectors, why and how could you be actively involved?
— And what is important for European countries, and why?
— That’s not an easy question, as you can understand. At the beginning, you might want to look from the widest perspective, to read Europe’s growth strategy “Europe 2020”, as well as the main documents in terms of culture. For example, the European Culture Agenda or other various research in the respective CCS fields, because they are really helping to understand what the EU is looking for in terms of cooperation in the field of culture and it can really help you to submit a good application and to respond to these challenges and requests that we have.
There are also many open source documents and networks, which produce very valuable reports that might provide you with very interesting and valuable data. So it’s also very useful to have a look at them in your specific field, let’s say again music or visual arts, and to see what the problems are, what the challenges are and try to reflect them in your application, try to help to solve them, to look for new ways in solving these issues and challenges that we discussed earlier.
— About the process for filling the application. Perhaps you could give some practical advice to people who want to apply. What is simply the most important thing to pay attention to so as to avoid certain common mistakes?
— All of the strands have electronic application forms, which are quite clear, because you have to give answers to the questions. So, you can have a look at the e-forms of previous calls and start to prepare your answers, especially to questions related to award criteria. I would also highly advise you to be very concrete and methodical. If you say that you will try to achieve certain goals, you also have to say very clearly exactly how you are going to reach them. If your project aim, for example, is working with audiences as one of its priorities, and you are claiming that you will use innovative methods in diversifying it, engaging, giving new experiences and changing relations, you have to say exactly how, when and with whom, etc.
It is also important to remember that the experts might know you, but if he or she doesn’t find information or answers in your application, they will just have to say that you didn’t provide enough clear information, though they may be in no doubt that your organisation works wonderfully.
What is also interesting? In the last calls, the weakest parts of some of the projects were communication, dissemination and the quality of the content and activities. Keep this in mind too.
Also, try to start making your application as soon as possible, as it takes time. If you are the leader, you will have to collect various documents and information from your partners and to sign cooperation agreements. As we all know, it just takes time.
There are so many tricks that I could mention that we could probably finish with a book… One very tiny detail, for example, is that the deadlines are always at midnight Brussels time. So, if you apply from Lisbon at midnight in Portuguese time, you will simply be late. This is again the reason why someone applying should read all the necessary information very carefully and consult the Creative Europe Desks in their country.
— Is there a scoring system?
— Yes, there are eligibility criteria, exclusion criteria, selection criteria and the award criteria. If the project is selected for evaluation, they are scored according to each award criteria and can receive a maximum of 100 points.
— What about the assessment of the application? What determines the score, and what could be the main reasons for an application being unsuccessful?
— There are four main award criteria. First of all, it’s relevance. Relevance means precisely how the project corresponds to the priorities of the programme, which we discussed. Because you can have really nice idea, but if it doesn’t have anything in common with the programme and the programme’s priorities then, I’m sorry, but you will never succeed.
The next one is quality of content and activities. How is the project implemented? Then, communication and dissemination, where experts will look for an answer to the question – what is the project's approach to communicating its activities and to sharing knowledge and experiences with the sector and across borders? And last, but not least, is the quality of the partnership. You have to explain the role of each partner, what they have done in terms of the building the idea of the project, what activities they will be responsible for, what their financial input is. As we already discussed, the second and the third criteria are the most challenging for the sector to date. Another mistake could be management of financial and human resources: excessive or insufficient, missing documents, a weak idea, no priorities tackled or excessively so. Overall, we call them “lazy” applications. The EU is really looking for strong communication and dissemination activities, benefiting to the EU, of long-term impact and sustainability.
— The programme provides some financial grants, doesn’t it? Precisely which financial documents and reports should be prepared?
— You have to provide a budget where you show not only the expenses of the project, but also the income part. The income part consists of the EU grant, self-financing and also of sources from private and public funding as well as income generated from the project. In small-scale cooperation, you have to find 40% of self-financing, 50% for large-scale and 20% for European Networks and European Platforms. It means that you and your partners also have to find your own resources. This is also the aspect of quality of partnership. And it actually doesn’t matter so much, where you will get these extra funds from, whether it will be state funding or a financing scheme, or some private sponsors.
Regarding the documents, if you and your partners ask for a grant, which is more than 60,000 euros, the leader has to submit additional financial documents. For example, the profit and loss accounts of the last two years. An external audit report is requested only if you apply for more than 750,000 euros. Nothing is very complicated.
— But should you show the mechanism for receiving this money?
— You have to provide your expectations of how much and from where you and your partners will get match-funding, but no confirmation letters are requested. For example, salaries paid for the team of the project can be treated as eligible costs and your input, but contribution in kind is treated as ineligible, so you should also know the main financial rules. Some countries, including Lithuania, have cofinancing schemes for the Culture sub-programme.
— How can you estimate your own idea of the application? What else is important for the quality of idea in the project submitted for the application?
— Questions are getting more and more difficult… My advice would also be to check projects already being funded. There is a specific dissemination platform where you can find the summaries of all funded projects. So, I am sure, if you read ten, twenty or fifty summaries, you can get quite a clear idea of what kind of projects are expected.
The idea should be an innovative and interesting one. Sometimes when we hear the word “innovative”, we are just completely scared, because we think that it should be something absolutely new, which has never ever happened before. But what I have noticed looking at projects that have already been funded is, that sometimes, it’s innovative in a combination of existing practices, in merging different sectors, taking methods or tools or best practices out of the other sectors and then something new appears. The idea itself is sometimes quite simple, but a very smart one. Yes, the idea is very important, but I would like to stress once again that it is just not only about a good idea. It’s really also about the priorities of the programme, and the quality of partnership and activities, so you should focus on these award criteria. In the guidelines you can also find questions, which experts have to answer when evaluating the project.
— And some more practical advice you would like to give to applicants.
— If you have the chance, then I would advise you to contact the Creative Europe Desk in your particular country. These experts are really the ones who should know the programme very well and will help you. I sometimes hear from applicants who are unsuccessful, that they simply make very, very small mistakes, and not because they are doing something wrong, but they simply miss some information, which is very obvious for the people who officially work with the programme.
What is also maybe a piece of good advice is to try to connect different sectors with different activities. For example, you might get different partners from not only the necessary culture and creative sector, but also invite universities or other research centres. It would also be very encouraging even to have some business institutions, IT development companies. I think that the culture sector, for example, should definitely cooperate with companies working in the IT sector, which can help us to overcome the challenges of, for example, the shift to digital.
I would also like to underline that the activities of the project should be very complex. You should try to think about various forms of activities and actions, which can help you to attain the goals of your project. If you look carefully at the lists of activities of funded projects, you will usually spot a set of different approaches.
Talking of advice, I really love this phrase of the European Association of Festivals, which they wrote in one of their reports, “Give, Get or Get Off”. I think this phrase represents the idea of cooperation in terms of the EU and working together to achieve our goals.