Dissemination, exploitation and communication i.e. how to turn your research results into impact in Horizon Europe proposals?

How do you make sure your research findings are taken into use by relevant stakeholders? Dissemination, exploitation and communication (in short DEC) are the key to make sure your research results will turn into impact in the long run. When the right DEC

How do you make sure your research findings are taken into use by relevant stakeholders? Dissemination, exploitation and communication (in short DEC) are the key to make sure your research results will turn into impact in the long run. When the right DEC measures are integrated in the research design, they will benefit you by increasing the visibility of your research, enhance your reputation and pave way for further funding and collaboration. In the following blog post, we explain how DEC is understood in Horizon Europe projects and how you can convince the reviewers that your proposal will make a difference.

First of all, it’s important to understand the difference between dissemination, exploitation and communication. Dissemination means circulating knowledge to those, who can take it further (usually the scientific community). It mainly covers project results and takes place towards the end of the project. Exploitation is the actual use of results by relevant stakeholders (IPRs, standards, policy recommendations etc.). Communication activities are targeted at the general public, and they aim to inform citizens about the benefits of science and to engage them in science. Communication happens throughout the project duration.

Horizon Europe introduces the Key Impact Pathway concept, which basically means that your project results (the immediate outputs of your research such as new solutions, business models, policy recommendations, datasets, networks or even trained PhDs etc.) eventually turn into research outcomes when successfully disseminated and exploited. Outcomes are the medium-term effects of the project, such as diffusion or deployment of the project results. Outcomes will enable changes i.e. impacts within longer time period. Impact means wider scientific, economic and societal changes (read our blog on Impact in HE).

The EU is looking for maximum exploitation of research results. This is why you should think about potential end-users of your research results. Involve them and other relevant stakeholders, preferably also EU-citizens or third-party organisations in your activities. Include concrete actions (such as stakeholder management, business and market actions, standardization etc.) that will be implemented both during and after the project and create a draft timeline when they will reach their goal (during and after the project). Plans should also include a follow-up plan to foster uptake of the results and if necessary, policy feedback measures to contribute to policy shaping or to the implementation of a new policy.

In HEU open access to data plays a key role, thus make sure you carefully consider what data can you make openly available? It is your advantage if for example your research can be reproduced, in the best case it results in more citations and raises your visibility. Obviously if making data openly available is not possible du to privacy issues or hampers the commercial exploitation of results, it should not be done, this however needs to be explained in the proposal. Outline your strategy for the management of intellectual property, foreseen protection measures, such as patents, design rights, copyright, trade secrets, etc., and how these would be used to support exploitation. If your project is selected, you will need an appropriate consortium agreement to manage (amongst other things) the ownership and access to key knowledge (IPR, research data etc.). Where relevant, these will allow you, collectively and individually, to pursue market opportunities arising from the project. Also, if your project is selected, you must indicate the owner(s) of the results (results ownership list) in the final periodic report.

In Horizon Europe the Commission is also obliged to plan a strategy for increasing the availability and diffusion of the Research & Innovation results to accelerate the exploitation towards market uptake and to boost the impact of the programme. Project beneficiaries have the obligation to exploit the results (either on their own or by someone else) and disseminate them in a publicly available format.

You should understand that the DEC plan in your proposal becomes legally binding once the projects get funded. Thus, avoid copying the text from previous proposals but carefully think about the promised actions; are they proportionate to the project scale and target audience?

In the funding proposals for HE Research and Innovation Actions (RIA) and Innovations Actions (IA), you need to outline a draft DEC plan. In roughly 5 pages you should describe the planned measures to maximise the impact of your project by providing a first version of your plan. The actual plan will become a mandatory deliverable once the projects gets funded (needs to be finalised by month 6 after the project starts). When you start drafting your dissemination, communication and exploitation plan you should think about the following:

  • What are the exploitable outputs that your project will produce? Who should own them? Who should utilize them?
  • Who could be interested in the set up or planning of your research, and whose primary interest is in the results alone?
  • Who do you need for your research (e.g. participants, infrastructure, know-how, networks)?
  • Who should know about your research (results), who needs them?
  • When is the right time to contact potential stakeholders?
  • What is the best way to communicate with different stakeholders?

The evaluators don't expect you to be a communication expert, neither do you need to re-invent the wheel by coming up with fancy new interaction tricks. The most important thing is to show that you have thought about maximising the impact of your project by using relevant, timely means that work for you and your stakeholders.

With the following picture, courtesy of the European Research Executive Agency, we wish you pleasant moments in drafting your DEC plans.