Ex post evaluation and impact assessment of funding in the FP7 NMP thematic area (NMP Evaluation)

In December 2013 the European Commission’s DG RTD mandated Technopolis Group and the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research to perform the ex post evaluation and impact assessment of the FP7 ‘Nanosciences, Nanotechnologies, Materials and New Production Technologies’ (NMP) Theme.  

The core objective of the FP7 NMP Theme was to improve the competitiveness of European industry and generate the knowledge needed to transform it from a resource-intensive to a knowledge-intensive industry. The evaluation was commissioned in order to get insight in the impact and achievements of the NMP Theme (as is done for all other themes in FP7) but also to investigate the results of the introduction of the Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) in 2010. The introduction of these new directions chosen under FP7 was one of the main actions of the €200bn European Economic Recovery Plan aimed at maintaining and creating jobs and strengthening competitiveness in Europe. Launching the PPPs was one of the main actions of the Commission in this regard. Another – related – novelty was that the NMP Theme was the first theme that positioned the projects in the innovation chain using the Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) concept. The concept was used to outline the different research and deployment steps supporting the process of transferring ideas to the market. Due to these developments the NMP Theme became a forerunner of the approach that was adopted in Horizon 2020, with as its main characteristic the integration of research and innovation activities.

Programme rationale

The FP7 NMP Theme has been successful in addressing a number of important barriers to innovation in these industrial sectors, such as the fragmented supply-chain and lack of collaboration along the supply chain, competition from low-cost manufacturing countries, the limited access to natural resources and raw materials, lack of testing and quality control of techniques and processes, and organisational problems encountered in re-developing, retrofitting and renovating old buildings. The rationale for having an NMP Thematic Area in FP7 was and still is valid, as many of the problems identified still apply. New technologies created in NMP are essential for building supply and value chains to deliver consumer goods and services.

The introduction of the PPPs in the FP7 NMP Theme has contributed to a better balance in FP7 NMP in terms of supporting different phases in the research, technology and innovation chain. The PPPs have grown to represent a considerable part of the budget of NMP. Consequently, their effect from a strategy-planning point of view for the NMP Theme has become significant. The core RTI programme has become the tool for funding research on new enabling technologies for all industry sectors and (as an initiator of technologies) to address the EU grand challenges, while the more applied topics have migrated to the PPPs. By introducing the PPPs, technology development is directly linked to innovation needs in specific sectors; the programme is now better matched with the needs of the specific sectors. 

Programme implementation

The NMP Theme is clearly an industry-oriented theme and this focus was even more pronounced in FP7. The FP7 NMP has been rather successful in attracting companies. Overall industry participation in FPs has been decreasing: it fell from 39% in FP4 to 31% in FP6 and in 2010 it accounted for only 25% in FP7. Meanwhile in the FP7 NMP, business community participation accounted for almost 40% of EC funding and compared to FP6, rose from 55% to 68% of the unique participants. SMEs – an important target group of EC policies – even accounted for two-thirds of industry participants (in FP6 NMP this was about one fifth). 

After the PPPs were introduced, industry participation increased from 46% of the participations in collaborative research projects in 2009 to 53% in 2013. The large firms are active in several areas; they do not stick to one specific area but participate in projects across the range of areas to the extent the call topics fit with their internal R&D needs. Putting the N, M and P together with Industrial Biotechnology under one label (NMBP) within the Key Enabling Technologies in H2020 confirms this trend.

Nevertheless, companies did not frequently take a leading role: indeed companies coordinated only 19% of the FP7 NMP projects. Considering the introduction of the PPPs in the second half of the programme, this comes as unexpected. Explanations can be many fold; companies can favour their in-house corporate R&D staff to rather work with external partners in the co-creation of innovations, fiscal restraint in recessionary times, opportunity costs (when putting corporate R&D staff in the position as project coordinator they are less available for other tasks). Also IP considerations might play a role as most useful IP is captured at the low TRLs and IP at the process scale up stage can be diluted in large projects and harder to protect.

As in FP6, also in FP7 the community of participants is geographically concentrated. The EC has not been successful in attracting more EU13 participants to the programme. The EU15 represents more than 80% of the participations and funding and 78% of all unique participants. The EU13 represent only around 9% of the unique participants and around 4% of the funding. In FP6 NMP participation figures were lower, funding figures higher for EU13.

Programme effectiveness: Scientific results

The scientific output of FP7 NMP is mostly found in publications: scientific articles and conference papers. Most of the scientific articles generated by the FP7 NMP funded projects stem from research organisations. Companies contribute only a few percentages, except for the New Production Technologies area; here SMEs contributed to almost one-tenth of the publications. The level of excellence of FP7 NMP scientific articles (measured by the share of highly cited publications and taking into account the limitations of citation data) is at least as high as the average level in the whole NMP landscape in the Web of Science.

Overall, it can be concluded that most projects have been very active in generating scientific publications and also achieved a remarkable level of scientific excellence. Interesting differences in scientific output can be observed between countries, types of research organisations, NMP areas, and project types. Some of these differences - such as the focus of research activities by universities or the allocation of area relevant publications to TRLs - confirm general understandings of the nature of NMP research activities. The interpretation of other observations such as the national distribution of scientific output raises questions. In particular the low representation of EU13 compared to their role in the worldwide NMP science landscape seems to indicate that the FP7 NMP programme was less successful in attracting research organisations from these countries.

Programme effectiveness: Economic results

Although many FP7 NMP projects are still on-going already many economic results have been achieved. The programme already has delivered various economic outputs that will provide a contribution to competitiveness of the European economy. Of the survey participants of finished 9 projects 60% have developed a new or significantly improved product and half of them report that this product has already been introduced at the market. Where market introduction took place, the new product is on average 5% of the company’s total turnover. Nearly half of the survey participants report the development of new or improved manufacturing processes and about 60% report new or improved services.

SMEs are relatively more productive than large firms: they report on a larger scale the development of new or significantly improved products and services reached during the project, higher improved flexibility, revenue growth and employment growth. Also they report higher increase of the projects effect on reputation and image compared to LE participants.

PPP projects are more productive than projects in other parts of the programme: PPP participants - especially those from Factory of the Future and Energy efficient Buildings projects - are relatively more productive in terms of economic outputs than participants in other parts of the programme. Three quarter of PPP project survey participants report that they already have reached the development of a new or significantly improved product. Survey participants of on-going projects (that include relatively more PPPs) report consistently higher numbers for high and medium impact as compared to the participants of finished projects (such as the number of patent applications that is already done and expected by the end of the project).

The introduction of the PPPs has contributed to a better balance in FP7 NMP in terms of supporting different phases in the innovation chain. The TRLs of PPP projects are relatively higher than in the N, M, P and I areas, which was also concluded in the final assessment of research PPPs (2013). Also industry participation is higher after the PPPs were introduced. It was a good decision of EC to change the strategy during the programme. The EC has been successful in pushing the programme, to some extent, towards higher TRLs.

Programme effectiveness: European Research Area

The FP7 NMP Theme is part of the endeavour to create a European Research Area. The programme also works that way as collaboration with organisations from other countries and regions is one of the central motivations for participating in FP7 NMP projects. Moreover, FP7 NMP supports collaboration between different types of actors. This is also reflected by the fact that 75% of the FP7 NMP publications are co-publications.

Large firms more often publish with universities (confirming other studies that indicate that they are relatively more active in basic research as compared to SMEs), while SMEs publish more often with (application-oriented) RTOs.

Surprisingly it was found that there are more project-external co-publications than project-internal co-publications in almost all parts of the programme, except for New Production Technologies. It can be concluded that the diffusion of ideas, concepts and applications triggered by EU-projects outside the involved community works well. There are even more project-external co-publications than project-internal co-publications in all areas, except for New Production Technologies. This means first at all that a much larger community of research organisations and perhaps companies is involved in the FP7 NMP than just the funded project participants and secondly that project partners use existing (research) networks and that they build new connections to disseminate project results or to develop ideas further.

Programme effectiveness: Societal and environmental effects

Societal and environmental impacts of FP7 NMP projects are considered as an intended side-effect of economic success (rather than the other way around). Project participants report on a variety of project results with societal and environmental relevance.

Dissemination of project results in order to reach a public that is interested in these results and in their societal and environmental aspects is mainly done by traditional communication channels and mainly reaches a scientific public. However, it seems there is potential for improvements regarding accessibility of social stakeholders in the broad public, such as by using social media.


Recommendations: stakeholders’ involvement and knowledge transfer

It is recommendable that:  

  • measures are taken to encourage inclusion of new partners in the Framework Programme in general,
  • specific measures are taken to attain a stronger inclusion of partners from EU13 countries, 
  • the composition of H2020 consortia are actively monitored,
  • specific attention is paid to identify where other companies might benefit from projects in order to achieve higher dissemination of results. RTOs can play a role in identifying and contacting these companies,
  • knowledge transfer and dissemination should be significantly enhanced,

Recommendations: TRL concept

It is recommended that:

  • the systemic and interactive character of the innovation process is considered when using the TRL concept to position and monitor projects’ progress and in that process keep TRL thinking open, flexible and permeable,
  • TRLs are used for individual work packages, as their use for a large-scale project does not sufficiently reflect the complexity of these projects.

Recommendations: Now PPPs have been introduced

PPPs are now a well-established part of H2020. Additional needs are summarised in the following recommendations:  

  • In the Nanoscience and Nanotechnologies and New Materials areas there is room for increased emphasis on higher TRLs.
  • Maintain the increased emphasis on PPPs but also accommodate more projects that focus on standardisation and regulation (e.g. government backed-up standards, certification, European harmonisation of regulation).
  • Intensify ESIC-type of commercialisation support as consortia may lack expertise about IPR, business models, marketing, etc.
  • With increased emphasis on commercialisation, there is room for supporting consortia that include a range of new actors and new collaborations that are very open to emerging technologies, radical innovation and new applications areas.




  • European Commission, DG Research and Innovation


  • Technopolis Group (NL), Christien Enzing (Coordinator)
  • University of Leeds (UK), Terry Wilkins