Communication versus Dissemination

– dissemination and communication measures for maximising project impact

There often appears to be confusion for applicants between the three CDE terms and particularly the difference between Dissemination and Communication.

Firstly, we have noted in an earlier article the importance of ensuring the content for each sub-section clearly addresses the guidelines and evaluation criteria.

♦ The Horizon 2020 proposal template Section 2.2 structure divides into:

Dissemination and exploitation of results
Communication activities

♦ Likewise, the Evaluation Criteria refer to quality of the proposed measures to:

Exploit and disseminate project results
Communicate the project activities to different target audience.

♦ Finally, the Model Grant Agreement (MGA) states: “Dissemination of results (Article 29) cannot replace communication activities (Article 38) or vice-versa.”

So, we can see that the Commission makes a clear demarcation between the terms, so let’s look at some EU definitions:

Dissemination means sharing research results with potential users – peers in the research field, industry, other commercial players and policymakers). Exploitation is the actual use of the results in further unrelated research activity or in developing new commercial products. On the other hand, Communication means taking strategic and targeted measures for promoting the action itself and its results/success to a multitude of audiences, including the media and the public, and possibly engaging in a two-way exchange (Source: Participant Portal H2020 Online Manual)

So, dissemination/exploitation is purely focused on promoting/facilitating the use of the project research results, while the aim of the communication activity is essentially a broader PR type activity reaching out to society as a whole while demonstrating how EU funding contributes to tackling societal challenges, etc.

Comparing communication and dissemination activity in horizon proposals

I am going to focus more on the Communication aspect (Section 2.2b) as this can tend to be somewhat of an after-thought and often combined with Dissemination, with no clear distinction between the two separate communication versus dissemination activities.

All three C/D/E activities working together should promote your project on many levels, reaching out to both a wider audience and interested parties, while exploring possible exploitation routes. This part of the proposal should not be viewed by consortia as merely a box to be ticked and perhaps a section to be handed over to consultants; rather as an area assuming increasing EU importance over recent years and one that needs to be substantially embedded into the core proposal development. The overall advice is to avoid being generic but be specific and quantitative, e.g. number/name of journal publications/conferences attended, etc. Seek to develop a consistent thread linking this 2.2 section to other parts of your project proposal (see below).


The difference between dissemination and communication measures

So, why is it important to make this distinction bearing in mind there is of course often some overlap between dissemination, exploitation and communication in any given project?

As we see above, in order to comply with the template and evaluation criteria, we need to have a clear idea on the differences, and endeavour to adhere to a good proposal structure and have the correct content in the correct position, making for an evaluator-friendly proposal. Often, while applicants generally get the exploitation bit largely correct in 2.2a, the confusion more arises where dissemination is conflated with communication rather than correctly aligning dissemination with exploitation (use of the research results) in S2.2a, and covering the more holistic project communication activity in S2.2b.

As said, dissemination is aligned with and indeed drives on exploitation by focusing on specific target groups that are potential users of the research results. This is not limited to industry players for new product/process development but includes the scientific community, policy makers, etc. Typical channels for dissemination will include peer-reviewed publications and presentations at scientific conferences, in a concerted and specific drive towards sharing (dissemination) and take-up (exploitation) of the research results with these perceived and identified potential users.

The purpose of the communication activities is to promote the project and make the research activities known to multiple audiences, beyond the project’s own community (in a way that they can be understood by non-specialists). Typical channels of communication might include project website, press release, brochure, exhibition, school visits, etc.

The communication activities must address the public policy perspective of EU research and innovation funding, by considering aspects such as (i) transnational cooperation in a European consortium (i.e. how working together has allowed to achieve more than otherwise possible) or (ii) scientific excellence or (iii) contributing to competitiveness and to solving societal and every-day challenges. (Participant Portal Online Manual)



It is also instructive to consider the relative timings for these different communication versus dissemination activities with reference to the project period. Dissemination shouldn’t be an after-thought but an ongoing dialogue with potential users during your project. Realistically however, it is likely to be more weighted towards the second half of your project as first results start to come through. Importantly, dissemination and exploitation measures will supersede your project as both measures will need to be implemented both during and after the project in order to achieve the final impact. On the other hand, communication should kick in from day 1 of your project and last over the course of the project period. (Image:

communication and dissemination timeline across project period


As mentioned above, it is important to develop a consistent thread linking Section 2.2 (using judicious cross-referencing) to other parts of your project proposal, including Section 3 Implementation – the work plan (3.1), management structure (3.2), the budget (table 3.4b), as well as parts of Section 1 Excellence (1.3). It is also recommended to have discrete deliverables and realistic timelines for both the Communication Plan and the Dissemination and Exploitation Plan.

The proposal 2.2b will form an outline of a Communication Plan but this should be elaborated into a formal Plan as an early deliverable (e.g. M2). On the other hand, a draft Dissemination & Exploitation Plan needs to be already included at the time of proposal submission, and while this will need to be updated at some point, it’s quite feasible to push this out (e.g. M18). These should both be shown in the Gantt and considered as working documents with periodic updating. Within section 3,  there will be many aspects of the total C/D/E activity in S2.2 that will contribute towards the budget other direct costs including costs relating to IPR, open access publications, research data (ORDP), etc. that can be included in table 3.4b justification.

Finally, within Section 1, clear communication activities within Methodology relate to the requirement for – “where relevant, include measures taken for public/societal engagement on issues related to the project”, as well as the section on national or international research and innovation activities linked to the project. All of these linkages demonstrate the importance of embedding your CDE activity throughout the proposal rather than see it as a separate section 2.2 box ticking exercise to satisfy the whims of the evaluator!

Communication, dissemination and exploitation difference