How the European Community triggered the evolution of a new profession, the FP Project Manager and how they started networking to see beyond the official guidelines.
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The new instruments

The introduction of large scale projects („new instruments") in 2002, the start of the Sixth European Framework Programme (FP6), also triggered the evolution of a new profession that we tend to call „Framework Programme project managers", or short FP project managers. With up to many dozens of partners and eight-figure budgets, a scientific coordinator of an Integrated Project or a Network of Excellence was no longer able to manage a project „on the side", usually as one of many, many projects in his/her department. With the new instruments also came new responsibility: financial auditing for example now had to be done by the consortia, not the Commission anymore. On the other hand, this funding level allows the employment of dedicated project managers who take care of basically all non-scientific issues related to the project. Most of the time is spent on reporting and meeting organisation, but there are plenty more things to deal with: budgets, contracts, dissemination, intellectual property rights (IPR), ethics, training, public involvement, media relation - to name just a few.

Who became a FP project manager

People often entered this job without any professional training in FP project management. There simply was close to nothing! Sure, you could go to info days on the Framework Programmes. And you could take courses on financial and contractual administration, project management, even proposal writing. But many had to start defining their job on their own. A comprehensive training course did not exist, does not today, and the requirements were unclear to say the least. People entered FP project management from all kinds of backgrounds, many scientists but also financial experts, lawyers, nurses, secretaries and so on. And started reading guidelines. Many guidelines. On proposals, negotiations, contracts, reporting, and so on and so on.

Life beyond the official guidelines

But reading guidelines is the one thing, real life often is another. Who to ask for advice? Many FP project managers are part of a research group and close to the scientific coordinator, which makes total sense for efficient management. But there often are no peers doing a similar job where they are. Only large organisations with lots of projects can afford to employ a considerable group of project managers who are available for a new project, e.g. Imperial College Consultants or INSERM Transfert.

So a few project managers of Networks of Excellence (NoEs) - a less well understood instrument, especially then - met to discuss some issues that went beyond the guidelines. That was in 2006 and the number of people involved was growing exponentially over the following years. The network, meanwhile named „European Community Project Managers' Association, (ECPMA)", has more than 230 members now, who discuss FP research project management via a forum as main tool. An equivalent network exists in the Netherlands, the "EU Project Managers Association in The Netherlands (EUPMAN)" with more than 170 members.

What will the future bring

By now, quite a few FP project managers have gained a lot of experience and have been through a lot of difficult situations. You could even say, that there is some recognition for this kind of job. Well, at least not EVERYBODY is asking „what's that?" anymore. Still, there is a long way to go and a few important questions to answer:

What belongs to the skill set set of a FP project manager?
What kind of training does a FP project manager need?
Should there be some sort of accreditation, certification, quality control?

A very intersting initiative can be found here: KEYLINKS - Platform for Common Framework for EU funded Projects. I am sure we will hear much more about that in the future!