Enabling Europe’s century of the photon

How communicating results well justifies investment in Horizon 2020 photonics projects

Central to driving growth and job creation this century will be the advanced technologies underpinning future goods and services. Known as Key Enabling Technologies, the European Commission identified six important areas they believe Europe should lead the world in: micro- and nanoelectronics, nanotechnology, industrial biotechnology, advanced materials, photonics, and advanced manufacturing technologies.

Of these, none can claim more promise than photonics, with potential transformative impacts across every sector imaginable. This potential is why Europe – through its latest research and innovation funding instrument, Horizon 2020 – is investing in this important growth sector, with 31 innovative photonics projects already funded to the tune of €112 million.

Facilitating growth in the European photonics sector through Horizon 2020, the Photonics Public Private Partnership coordinated by European Technology Platform Photonics21 represents the European Commission’s long-term commitment to photonics R&D. But whether Europe will be torchbearers or followers in light technologies depends on a number of factors.

Horizon 2020 projects: showing return on investment

Horizon 2020 has emerged at a tricky time. Indeed, despite the programme having been up and running for over a year, negotiations over its budget continue, with roughly €2.7 billion likely to be shaved off the original €80 billion agreed at the outset.

Why? Because unemployment, public sector cuts and poor economic growth on scales not witnessed for a generation have forced MEPs, the EC and Member States to re-evaluate how they distribute their dwindling funds and, importantly, made citizens evermore critical of how their money is spent.

With this background then, it is no surprise that a core objective of Horizon 2020 and therefore Photonics21 is to vividly demonstrate how it will create growth and jobs through the cutting-edge research projects being funded.

What’s different in Horizon 2020?

Alongside a commendable requirement for Horizon 2020 results to be disseminated in open access, free-of-charge journal articles, the new programme also aims to enhance communication to a wider audience.

Rather than an obligation hidden away in an obscure annex (as was the case in predecessor FP7’s guidelines), communication activities are now a core requirement in Horizon 2020, embedded in project proposals from the outset, and often as a specific work package.

No longer can project leaders solely communicate their results at the project’s end to satisfy the contractual requirements of the grant, they now need to show awareness of and actively engage in communication continuously throughout.

Impact through communication

It may seem to some that this requirement represents yet another layer of peripheral work encroaching on what matters – the research. But communicating the results of a project is what allows potential commercial partners and additional funders to hear about project results, ultimately creating impact. And a strong media presence keeps photonics firmly on the agenda in Brussels, ensuring continued investment from Horizon 2020 and its successors.

So, assuming you apply for funding from the Photonics PPP budget, what do you need to do to ensure Europe knows its money is being spent wisely?

All in the planning

A clear, well-structured communications plan in your project proposal is a great start, allowing you to minimise your time commitment for maximum gain. This can either be created by the project organiser or assigned to a media savvy expert.

Whoever makes the plan, a knowledgeable communicator needs to lead the communications work package, not only to ensure messaging is clear, targeted, well-distributed and well-timed, but also to build and maintain momentum – important to keep your research relevant and high profile in your community and beyond.

Building buzz

Part of this job is creating and maintaining a strong, easy to navigate and regularly updated website, highlighting information useful to both your target stakeholders and the wider public. But beyond this, social media engagement, press releases, graphic design, conference presentations and posters, brochures and even business cards can benefit from the input of a high-quality communications project partner.

Their experience and skills – from search engine optimisation to video production – could make the difference between your project setting off a minor ripple or a surfable wave of media attention, and thus generating commercial and public interest.

Towards 2020

However results are communicated, the obligations set out in Horizon 2020 can only be seen as a step in the right direction, showing all stakeholders in new, interesting and compelling ways how and why their money is being spent on photonics R&D that will touch all of our lives in the future.

With the right communications strategy – led by smart people who aim to apply the same standards of innovation in engaging with their audiences as they do in their research – projects funded under the Photonics PPP have never had a better opportunity to create real-world impact.

Originally published in the Photonics21 June 2015 newsletter

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