A “project idea” is not a “project proposal” is not a “project”

Messy project

  By Nuno Vas Silva

Key aspects to consider when building a cooperation project

Part 2 (before writing)

I once heard someone arguing that when Tom Waits was stuck in a major traffic jam, a melody came to him and musical notes started wandering through his mind forming themselves into the first draft of a song.. The only problem was that he had nothing to record it with. No scrap of paper or tape recorder was within arm’s reach. Some say he was so annoyed that he yelled out: “Why don’t you go bother Leonard Cohen?

An idea is a very unstable thing.

If you have nowhere to write it down or anyone to share it with, the chances are that you will lose it. But once you start working on it to transform it into something tangible, you will probably end up with something totally different.

The more you invest in a realistic proposal, the more chance you have of implementing a successful project. This means you need to dedicate particular attention to setting the project up, writing the proposal and implementing it.

Here is a list of general useful life tips before writing a project proposal:

1. Read the call (terms of reference) carefully

This may sound a bit patronising, but sometimes we are so struck by how brilliant our idea is that we fail to understand that it won’t fit into whatever programme we come across. So:

  • Be sure your idea responds to the objectives of the call/funding (or if you will have to reshape it so much that it won’t be yours anymore)

  • Be sure the conditions of (co)funding, eligibility of expenditure and partners, calendar, etc. suit you


2. Adapt your idea to the conditions, objectives and interests of the programme/funding (but not too much – see #1)

3. Do not hesitate to get in touch with the people organising the programmes or funds.

All funding schemes have a technical team and/or liaison offices, regional or national branches and professionals whose role is to help you deliver a good job.

4. Search for the best partners (or be thankful if someone invites you to join a project).

We will debate partner issues in more detail later. Here, the question is that for a cooperation project, you need to have partners. So, either you find a way of keeping your institution on other people’s radars, or you try to get the best possible collaborators for your proposal.
You can use platforms such as Up2Europe, ask around, share your idea in the programme’s clipboard, deal with consulting firms, etc. but when it comes down to it, the important criteria is that the people you engage with will be there from then on which may be a tremendous help or an unforgettable nightmare.

5. Reshape the project idea to adapt it to other partners’ views (but not too much – see #1 and the “nightmare” reference above).

6. You are entitled to say no (if doesn’t gel with what you do or your principles, if you are not available enough or if something doesn’t feel right).

This bring us more or less onto the beginning. Your idea deserves the best. You should respect it and find the most adequate context and conditions to bring it to life. If you are supposed to reshape it to the point that your live performance will look like a playback, maybe it would be best to let it go. You will definitely find another opportunity and setting to develop it in.