Facilitation Toolkit

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Toolkit

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The Facilitation Toolkit for Social Services Projects has been designed to effectively respond to the pressing administrative and technical challenges encountered at every stage of the project cycle. Its primary focus is to assist managing authorities operating at all levels (national, regional, and local) including intermediary bodies and agencies, in the process of accessing and managing funds from ESF+ and ERDF (along with other programs) for the benefit of social services. 

The toolkit is dedicated to finding solutions and designing tools that simplify access to EU funds. It offers a variety of practical tools, advice, recommendations, templates, and it highlights promising practices from different EU Member States.

The Toolkit has been designed to streamline the project management process across seven key thematic areas: Project Application, Partnership and Horizontal Principles, Project Selection and Evaluation, Project Quality and Communication, Budget, Reporting, Follow-up, and Sustainability.

In this section, you will find a range of templates, spreadsheets, and checklists designed for all seven thematic areas designed to assist in navigating the complexities of project facilitation and implement best practices based on sector-specific insights.

01 Application Phase

The Application Phase topic includes various tools aimed at facilitating the open call design to ensure equal access for all potential applicants. These tools suggest employing a checklist during programming or before initiating the call design or implementing a 2-step application process which aims to pre-filter project proposals at an early stage, effectively reducing administrative workload. The tools were developed through a collaborative process involving social service providers and Managing Authorities during a series of workshops held from 10th to 12th May 2023. The inputs provided by these stakeholders and their subsequent feedback played a crucial role in shaping the tools for the Application Phase.
List of Tools:

The tool is to be applied when designing an open call of social inclusion and innovation to ensure that it gives access to the program for all relevant potential applicants.

Tool user guide:

  1. Integrate the tool into the call design process as a reminder of what aspects of social service providers are needed to be taken into account.
  2. Check the tool’s questions before starting the call design and setting up the call design team, especially question 1.
  3. Share the tool’s questions with the call design team at the beginning of the design work, add additional country- or sector-specific questions to the list, if relevant.
  4. Check the pre-final call using the checklist to make sure that all questions can be answered as YES.

Download here

This section contains a collection of tools designed to facilitate a 2-step application process in ESF+ programmes supporting social services, as a solution to reduce the unnecessary administrative burden of both applicants and Managing Authorities/Intermediary Bodies by pre-filtering project proposals at an early development stage.

The collection of tools includes:

A. Checklist for during programming or prior to call design on using a 2-step application process

The tool helps to decide whether a 2-step application process is the most suitable application process type for the planned call. Answering YES to question 1. and min 50% of the questions indicates that a 2-step application process is highly recommended to use to reduce the workload of both applicants and the Managing Authority/ Intermediary Body.

The tool is to be used when the decision on the application process type is made, whether it is during the programming or the call design period (country-dependant).

Tool user guide 

  1. Integrate the tool into the programming/call design process to ensure that the most suitable application process type is chosen.
  2. Optionally, add country- or sector-specific questions to the list.
  3. If the answer is YES to question 1 and min. 50% of the questions, choose a 2-step application process

Download Checklist on using a 2-step Application Process

B. Step 1 ESF+ Application Form template sample

When a 2-step application process is chosen in an ESF+ call, especially one supporting social inclusion and innovation, the Application Form template available in this link can be used as a sample in Step 1, adapted as necessary to the nationally used Application Form.

Tool user guide: 

The template sample follows the structure of the single-stage standard ESF+ application form template. National application forms with a different structure should modify the template accordingly but keep its purpose and logic.

Purpose and logic of Step 1:

  • Step 1 should include sections on project relevance, project partnership, project general and specific objectives and a description of main planned activities and how they relate to Programme indicators.
  • Step 1 should only inquire about the total budget and budget broken down by partners.
  • Step 1 should only require annexed documents to check the eligibility of the Lead Partner and if this information can be gathered from public data, no annex should be asked for
  • Step 1 should allow all sections to be changed in Step 2, except for:
    • Project title and acronym
    • Lead Applicant
    • Targeted call objective, project general objectives and main target group(s)
    • Total project budget can only be changed by max 30% in Step 2

Download Step 1 Application Form Template

C. Step 2 ESF+ Application Form Template Sample

When a 2-step application process is chosen in an ESF+ call, especially one supporting social inclusion and innovation, the Application Form template available below can be used as a sample in Step 2, adapted as necessary to the nationally used Application Form.

Tool user guide: 

The template sample follows the structure of the single-stage standard ESF+ application form template. National application forms with a different structure should modify the template accordingly but keep its purpose and logic.

Purpose and logic of Step 2:

  • In Step 2 every section of the application form can be changed except for:
    • Project title and acronym
    • Lead Applicant
    • Targeted call objective, project general objectives and main target group(s)
    • Total project budget can only be changed by max 30%.
  • Step 1 Activities should be complemented by milestones and deliverables.
  • Budget should allow simplified cost options

Download Step 2 Application Form Template

Tools B and C use the ESF+ standard single-stage Application Form as a basis and draws on the logic of non-ESF+ programmes using 2-stage (2-step) application processes in the 2021-2027 programming period, such as the Interreg Danube Transnational Program and the Interreg North-West Europe program as claimed best practices by social services.

Please note that parallel to this collection of tools, as another pillar of the 2-step application process, a tool collection for the evaluation of proposals in a 2-step application process has been developed under 3.2 Evaluation of project proposal in a 2- step Application process.

02 Partnership & Horizontal Principles

The tools related to the partnership and horizontal principles aim to help Managing Authorities to organise effective partnerships by asking the right questions at each stage of the Programme cycle (design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation phases), in compliance with the obligations set out in the CPR (Common Provisions Regulation) and ECCP (European Code of Conduct on Partnership). These tools can also help Managing Authorities to reflect on and identify additional categories of partners not foreseen in the CPR and ECCP, whose involvement would give an added value to the design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of the policy objectives of each Programme. For example, reflecting on which additional categories of partners to include in the partnership can be very useful in case a Programme covers social service provision, as social service providers are not mentioned in the indicative list of partners mentioned in the CPR and ECCP. These tools are mainly related to the Programme cycle and not to the project level.

Tools from 1 to 9 suggest to Managing Authorities, alone or in collaboration with the partners, questions useful to operationalise the partnership principle across the Programme cycle. These tools can be used to devise partnerships in relation to any policy objective or theme. Suggestions for additional partners are highlighted in light blue and can be useful to build partnerships in the field of social service provision.

Tools 10 and 11 are about horizontal principles (gender equality, gender mainstreaming, equality) and can be useful both to Managing Authorities to assess Programmes from a gender equality and a social inclusion perspective. The same tools can be used by practitioners and project partners to assess their project proposals from a gender equality and an inclusion perspective.

Tool 12 is addressed to partners/project promoters. It contains a checklist that supports organisations in the process of building a partnership or a project to be implemented with partners by indicating the most important elements that are to be included in a partnership agreement and giving some tips.

List of Tools:

Sectoral Application of Partnership and Horizontal Principles 

This section incorporates feedback from five social service sectors: Families in Poverty and Children in Protection, Work Integration, Persons with Disabilities, Poverty and Homelessness, and Elderly. The tools from the partnership and horizontal principles have been reviewed by experts across these sectors. The gathered feedback in the following suggests ongoing improvement to meet sector-specific needs.

  • Exchange and Matchmaking Opportunities: creation of exchange and matchmaking events facilitated by managing authorities, either in-person or online to promote information sharing among organizations operating in the same territories or addressing similar topics.
  • Sensitization and Capacity-Building: sensitization and capacity-building for the use of internal organisation tools by potential beneficiaries This may involve the use of draft documents to gather partners around a project idea, fostering collective feedback and alignment with official project templates.
  • Balancing Old and New Partners:
    • Advantages of old partners: Built-in trust and common understanding.
    • Advantages of new partners: Fresh ideas, innovation, and new skills.
    • Recommendation: Aim for a balanced mix of old and new partners, considering the time needed for trust-building with new partners.
  • Selecting the “Right” Partners:
    • Conduct stakeholder mapping and analysis to identify potential partners.
    • Assess partners based on skills, expertise, capacity, added value, resources, motivation, innovativeness, representativeness, and legitimacy.
    • Ensure relevant expertise and diversity in the partnership.
  • · Engaging Partners:
    • Encourage open dialogue and discussion about the partnership’s goals.
    • Identify key individuals in partner organizations to promote involvement.
    • Conduct initial workshops and regular meetings to clarify aims.
    • Use facilitators to guide discussions and ensure progress.
    • Dedicate support staff to assist new or resource-limited partners.
    • Foster informal relationships with partner representatives.
    • Focus on a clear, easily identifiable issue.
    • Consider formal commitments via partnership agreements.
    • Facilitate networking events for partners.
  • Agreeing on a Common Vision:
    • Establish consensus on partnership objectives and methods.
    • Use participatory approaches and consensus-building techniques.
    • Ensure the group collectively drives the partnership’s vision.
    • Address disengagement through bilateral talks and revision of partnership mapping.
  • Maintaining Engagement and Participation:
    • Foster continuous communication through various channels.
    • Emphasize tangible outputs to demonstrate progress.
    • Reinforce goals and objectives with robust action plans.
    • Cultivate an open and transparent atmosphere.
    • Provide clear leadership to promote participation.
    • Strengthen relationships through informal activities.
    • Mentor partners facing resource or experience challenges.
    • Value all partners’ contributions equally.
  • Dealing with Disengaged Partners:
    • Initiate bilateral discussions to understand reasons for non-compliance.
    • Consider reallocating roles and tasks within the partnership.
    • Offer partnership skills training if needed.
    • Provide capacity building for resource-limited partners.
    • Pair experienced partners with fewer resources.
    • Address transparency, power imbalances, and communication issues.
    • Replace partners if a solution cannot be found, following pre-established rules.

03 Project Selection & Evaluation

Generally, social service providers face the following challenges and obstacles during the evaluation phase.

  • Lack of information or training sessions on evaluation
  • Unclear language used in evaluation grid
  • Delayed results of evaluation
  • Application Form sections cannot be matched with evaluation criteria, making self-assessment impossible.
  • Scoring doesn’t reflect the objectives, priorities of the given call.
  • Misunderstanding or incompetence of evaluators can be traced in the evaluation report.
  • Lack of communication during the stages of evaluation

The tools were developed through a collaborative process involving social service providers and Managing Authorities during a series of workshops held from 10th to 12th May 2023. The inputs provided by these stakeholders and their subsequent feedback played a crucial role in shaping the tools.

List of Tools:

  • Make sure that the objectives, priorities, and expected results of the call are the ones focused on in the evaluation grid and its scoring.
  • Make sure the Application Form is in line with the evaluation grid, i.e., each evaluation criterion can be matched with the Application Form sections.
  • To facilitate the comprehension of call requirements, make sure that the evaluation grid also uses layman language, just like other parts of the call documentation (glossary should be provided where necessary)
  • Make sure that evaluators have tested and assessed the AF, the evaluation grid, and its scoring during the design of the call.
  • Make sure that evaluators are given training on the thematic area as well, not just the evaluation procedure and methodology.
  • Make sure that information or training sessions are provided on the evaluation of the proposals and the evaluation criteria, specifically targeting small or less experienced organizations.
  • Ensure clear and foreseeable communication throughout the evaluation process, preferably integrated into the electronic application system.

04 Project Quality & Communication

Quality assurance is one of the key aspects of EU funded projects and Managing Authorities (MAs) are responsible for maintaining high quality in every single project funded. However, projects in social services often miss a common framework on quality management and evaluation and this later creates many challenges for MAs to fairly monitor and evaluate the projects from the quality point of view. Within the quality assurance process, it is important to collect feedback from project coordinators and partners. This should cover both project progress and overall dynamic regarding content and quality of cooperation. It is therefore quite different from monitoring reports, which focus on measurable progress vis-à-vis project application.

List of Tools:

This section introduces two essential tools for managing project quality: the Quality Assurance Management and Evaluation (QAME) framework Tool, and a Checklist designed to define measurable and result-oriented project criteria, presented below. 

05 Project Budget

As social services have indicated that one of the key obstacles for them to access EU funding is the heavy administrative burden, Managing Authorities should consider if use of SCO’s can simplify reporting. This section of the toolkit offers a concise yet comprehensive look at the Simplified Cost Options (SCOs) in the context of EU-funded projects. It covers both the advantages and disadvantages observed through practical encounters with SCOs. Additionally, it provides recommendations aimed at managing authorities and presents a library of best practices from the social sector pertaining to SCOs. You can access a library of best practices from the social sector related to SCOs through link below.

List of Tools:

06 Project Reporting

Many applicants and beneficiaries are afraid to provide honest feedback to MAs as they believe in case the feedback is negative it could have negative effects on future project applications. We gathered the most common issues the social services sector had with managing authorities in real life and suggested easy-to-implement solutions. 

This section offers practical tools for managing authorities (MAs) to facilitate the reporting phase with EU-funded projects.

List of Tools:

Sectoral Application of the Project Reporting

This section incorporates feedback from five social service sectors: Services for Child Protection and Families in Poverty, Work Integration, Persons with Disabilities, Poverty and Homelessness, and Older Persons. The gathered feedback suggests the following improvements to meet sector-specific needs.

  • Awareness of Reporting Challenges: MAs should be aware of reporting challenges specific to the sector they are working in, especially when dealing with vulnerable target groups. In some cases, obtaining participant lists or monitoring sheets may involve labelling participants as “disadvantaged” or “in poverty.” However, this can be a sensitive issue, and participants may be reluctant to sign such documents. When working with children, especially those from disadvantaged communities, handling personal data becomes even more sensitive. Approval from parents may be necessary for signing any documents, such as attendance or monitoring sheets. In situations where support is provided in environments without parents (e.g., schools, children’s clubs, community centres), reporting becomes challenging. There may be practical issues in reporting attendance, as traditional methods like pictures or attendance sheets may not be appropriate. Reporting issues in environments without parents can be difficult to solve, and it does not provide a clear solution for how to address the problem of reporting on the attendance of children in such cases.
  • Simplify Reporting Process: Ensure simplicity, transparency, and coherence in reporting by eliminating redundant questions, simplifying timesheets, expanding accepted reporting tools, and automating financial follow-ups, especially for organisations dealing with older persons / unemployed / persons with disabilities / families in poverty and children, to accommodate limited resources.
  • Provide Clear Information: This includes information on how to fill out forms, record staff time and the way reporting is expected to be done. This would help organisations to focus on areas that could potentially become an issue.
  • Identify Common Mistakes: Highlight and address recurring errors to enhance reporting accuracy.
  • Consistency in Rules: Maintain consistency in rules without introducing changes during ongoing processes.
  • Enhancing Sustainability: Reporting should be designed to incentivise and support broader dissemination in the long term after the end of the programme. This mainly includes sharing and implementation of good practices and tools. 
  • Improving Reporting Indicators: Diversifying data collection methods, emphasising the quality of work over sheer working hours.
  • Reasonable Logo Usage Requirements: Implement sensible guidelines for logo usage in documents.
  • Account for Differences: Address variations in national rules, calendar years, and project periods when recording staff time and financial reporting.
  • Mitigating Risks: Incorporate risk assessment for projects to enable teams to proactively address potential issues.

07 Project Follow-up and Sustainability

Generally, social service providers and managing authorities identify the following typical challenges and obstacles when it comes to project sustainability:

  • Lack of financial and human resources to sustain project results and comply with contractual obligations regarding project sustainability/durability, especially in non-profit organisations.
  • Lack of sustainability plan or design thinking ensuring transferability, replicability, and sustainability, especially in social innovation projects.
  • Contractual obligations regarding sustainability of project results are too strict and thus it is a barrier for submitting proposals.
  • The continuation of the project activities after the project’s end does not occur in most cases without further financial support.
  • EU funding logic often restricts access to funding from other EU programmes for the continuation/sustainability of project activities.
  • Although EU funding is meant to give a kick-start to certain interventions, reforms and innovations, after which national funding is supposed to take over, lack of political will for national financing or limited national resources make it difficult to get funding for the project follow-up period.
  • Lack of support, guidance from Managing Authorities regarding sustainability, while monitoring of sustainability period is arbitrary in some programmes.
  • Communication, information and training on the possibilities and characteristics of EU funds to help use them is not addressed.
  • The project implementation period for some calls is too short to get and measure more tangible results or longer lasting impact.
  • Lack of continuity during call design and lack of synergy building between programs/calls

In the case of social services projects lack of sustainability is especially problematic as it can lead to discontinuity of the service and support to persons in vulnerable situations.

This section contains a collection of tools designed to facilitate the sustainability of projects in ESF+ and ERDF programmes supporting social services.

List of Tools:

Toolkit

This booklet EU Funds for Social Services: Promising Practices and Inspiring Examples aims at shaping the abilities of the organisations to be successful in applying for EU funding and running projects and inspire Managing Authorities (MAs) with practices that facilitate the support for quality social inclusion projects. It summarises and demonstrates experience of organisations in the field and supplements it with examples of successful projects. We have gathered feedback in 6 areas, distilled and rephrased into simple advice, illustrated with practical examples.

Guidance

This booklet EU Funds for Social Services: Promising Practices and Inspiring Examples aims at shaping the abilities of the organisations to be successful in applying for EU funding and running projects and inspire Managing Authorities (MAs) with practices that facilitate the support for quality social inclusion projects. It summarises and demonstrates experience of organisations in the field and supplements it with examples of successful projects. We have gathered feedback in 6 areas, distilled and rephrased into simple advice, illustrated with practical examples.

HELPDESK Support

Co-funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

HELPDESK Support

Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.
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