COoperation in Science and Technology - COST
What do we think about this @gandhiano? It sounds quite useful for the R&D community.
COST Actions are one of the oldest instruments for funding research collaboration in Europe, and this is still something one can feel. A COST Action has money exclusively for meetings, exchange, and conferences, and reimbursement takes place for an individual researcher who participates in one of those activities. The application procedure requires a work plan and a commonly defined research goal, similar to any other proposal writing. What makes a COST Action different from other collaboration funding instruments such as Network of Excellence – which is usually a ‘call mill’ for network activities – is that no money is transferred to any partner institution. People who are used to EC funding sometimes have a hard time to get their head around this. What a COST Action offers is a kind of claim to a specific ‘pot’ of money, which materializes only by making activities happen.
The competition to get a COST Action approved is quite fierce, it is a two-step process (short-long). In the application phase it feels like any other EC funded project: there is a Principal Investigator (Proposer) and a team of experts from different countries who work together at the proposal text. But once a COST Action is approved the run is not over: the representatives of COST in the various countries (called COST National Coordinators) need to make the countries sign the Action. They also nominate the candidates from this country for the Management Committee. I sometimes call this the ‘democratic moment’ of an Action. The supporters, including the PI, need to become active and sort of ‘reclaim their child’. Once nominated to the MC, the members act as champions for the goals of the Action in their own national communities. The intrinsic openness of Action for other researchers to participate in Working Groups, sometimes leads to Action with a Working Group of more than 100 members, although the funding allows for small-scale meetings of WG’s only.
There is – for sure for so-called TransDomain Actions, meaning interdisciplinary ones – a certain tension between creating a network of experts who have a chance to meet regularly and get to know each other and start collaborations, and the eagerness to widen up the network. One successful strategy over the last years of the COST office has been to require a policy that includes a so-called Early Stage Researcher. This is anybody who completed their PhD within the preceding 8 years. So, sometimes a situation might emerge where more senior experts, who usually have intense enough networks as it is, act as Hebammen for collaborations of researchers from following younger generations. What makes COST Actions very charming and a kind of chameleon under all instruments is that, despite quite firm rules how (and how much) monies can be spent, there is a large amount of freedom in running an Action.
... further on ...
What is already visible is that an Action can only live by the voluntary and unpaid work of its participants. To organize an event is a lot of work, most of it is mailing and communication. Either one is really interested in it, or nobody will invest time. This way, in the good, old-fashioned manner of autonomous science (here meant as Wissenschaft) an Action proceeds in a self-organized manner and relies on the altruism of all involved.