Hands together, plants soil and ecology growth with sustainability and community work.

Operational Groups

Projects co-creating practical solutions for agriculture, forestry and rural communities

Operational groups
Operational groups
Operational groups

An EIP-AGRI Operational Group project (OG) is a group of people with complementary knowledge (e.g. practical, scientific, technical, organisational expertise, etc.) who co-create practical solutions for agriculture, forestry and rural communities in an innovation project. An Operational Group may include various actors from European Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation Systems (AKIS), including farmers, foresters, researchers, advisors, businesses, environmental groups, consumer interest groups or other NGOs to advance innovation for agriculture, forestry and rural areas. Operational Groups seize opportunities or find practical solutions for challenges that farmers, foresters or rural communities are facing in their everyday work. The group is composed of well-chosen partners whose expertise can help tackle the objectives of the project or help spread news on the activities and results of the project to a broader audience.

The current Common Agricultural Policy (2023-2027) provides opportunities for preparing and implementing Operational Group projects via national CAP Strategic Plans. In the period 2014-2022, Operational Groups were funded through Rural Development Programmes.

On this page:
  • What is interactive innovation?
  • What does an Operational Group do?
  • How is an Operational Group formed?
  • How to get funding for your Operational Group?
  • Sharing Operational Group results
  • Research needs: facilitating a dialogue between research and practice
  • Learn more about Operational Groups

Learn more about

Innovation support

Learn more

Operational Groups in EU Member States

Learn more

Operational Groups across borders

Learn more

Operational Group projects

Learn more

What is interactive innovation?

EIP-AGRI Operational Group projects are based on the 'interactive innovation' model (see Regulation (EU) 2021/2115, Art. 127, p. 103). This approach stimulates cooperation and innovation, and implies that:

  • the project brings together partners with relevant complementary knowledge that serves the project objectives, such as farmers, foresters, advisors, researchers, businesses, non-governmental organisations or others from the supply chain – in a combination that best suits the focus and goals of the project and that includes actors from practice;
  • the project is based on a 'bottom-up' approach, focusing on actual needs from farmers, foresters or rural communities that offer an opportunity or require an innovative solution;
  • the partners in the Operational Group collaborate throughout the project on an equal basis, ‘co-creating’ from the very start, making decisions and creating all results in the project together.

These three elements form the key principles of Operational Groups.

What does an Operational Group do?

Operational Group projects

EIP-AGRI Operational Groups bring together a range of people with diverse expertise, to co-create innovative solutions in agriculture, forestry and rural areas. An Operational Group needs to tackle a practical problem or innovative opportunity – a 'need from practice' – that may lead to an innovative solution. The results need to be applicable and ready for practice, so that farmers, foresters or rural communities can apply them in their everyday work.

Operational Groups seize opportunities and tackle challenges in many different areas. They can address all nine specific objectives of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for 2023-2027, and the cross-cutting objective to modernise agriculture, forestry and rural areas by fostering and sharing knowledge, innovation and digitalisation.

By creating innovative solutions, Operational Groups strongly contribute to the Member States’ Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation Systems (AKIS). A well-functioning AKIS creates plenty of knowledge flows directed towards practice, from advisors, trainers, researchers, networks and others, who are closely interacting. The innovation ecosystem in and around Operational Groups should ensure that the project outcomes are well spread and that they form part of the knowledge flows within the AKIS system.

Operational Group projects can focus on developing new products, practices, processes or technologies, as well as testing and adapting existing technologies and processes in new geographical or environmental contexts.

The project work can involve many different activities, including field trials, joint working sessions, try-outs of new practices or technologies, producing knowledge materials to share, preparing practice handbooks, or organising events including cross-visits to exchange knowledge with other Operational Groups.

How is an Operational Group formed?

EIP-AGRI Operational Groups are formed at the initiative of farmers, foresters and other professionals involved, through a flexible and open system. The project themes are selected through a bottom-up approach, addressing concrete opportunities and needs of farmers, foresters and rural communities.

The composition of the group is based solely on the knowledge and expertise that are needed to achieve the project objectives. It is important for an Operational Group to bring together partners with different types of skills and expertise (e.g. practical, scientific, technical, organisational, etc.) to tackle the challenges that the project addresses, and get well-founded results that are ready to be used in practice.

An Operational Group only starts to exist when the project implementation is granted EU CAP funding (under an EIP intervention, according to Art. 77/127), and it can only be called an Operational Group for the duration of the project.

Through their CAP Strategic Plans, Member States can decide to support Operational Group projects in one or two stages. The support may be only for the project preparation phase (also referred to as ‘setting up’ or ‘establishing’ the OG), it can be both for the preparation and implementation of the project, or it can be solely for the project.

Funding to prepare the Operational Group project

Support for the preparation step will help get the right partners on board. They need to have knowledge and views on the project objectives and they can help refine the initial project ideas. Finding the right partners for the team may require some time and effort. Therefore some start-up funding is very useful for preparing the project.

By using preparation funding in a first step, Operational Groups should be able to start their projects with a well-developed view on the problem or opportunity they want to tackle, on how the project can add value, and on how best to already involve potential end users of the project results in communication actions during the project. This speeds up the application of the innovation or solution that is being developed. Some Member States see this preparation funding as a type of preselection, enabling only the very best applications to proceed to a second phase.

Preparation funding will give Operational Groups a sound foundation to work with, reducing the risk for errors occurring later on in the project. Searching for partners, looking for readily available knowledge on the subject, drafting a project plan, and preparing the application and cooperation agreement are all eligible for funding during this first step, putting the groups in the best possible position to begin their project activities. These individual project efforts cannot be underestimated. Advisors and innovation support services can help with this. If they need to be contracted, such services are also eligible for funding.

During the preparation phase, Operational Groups will need to prepare a plan for their communication activities during the project and the dissemination of final results. Communication planning is absolutely vital, since Operational Groups use public funding and are meant to produce knowledge that is publicly and freely available to all.

Young plants increase on sunny background

How to get funding to implement your Operational Group project?

The project candidates will apply to a call for funding, launched by the Member State's Managing Authority. If their application has been selected, the Operational Group will be granted funding through the CAP Strategic Plan of the Member State where it operates. Cross-border and transnational Operational Groups have partners joining one project across the borders. In this case, each Managing Authority will pay for its part as agreed among the cooperating Member States or regions.

Managing Authorities of CAP Strategic Plans will define selection criteria to fund applications of Operational Group projects. They could add a thematic focus related to their national, regional or thematic priorities, taking care that this does not hamper the collection of bottom-up innovative ideas, which innovation support services may help capture.

Sharing Operational Group results

Operational Group projects have an obligation to disseminate their plans (from the very start of the project) as well as their final (and intermediate) results, and make this knowledge freely available to others, even if some private co-funding is used. Applicants for funding need to prepare a plan for the dissemination of results. A significant part of the Operational Group budget needs to be spent on communication and demonstration during the project.

Operational Groups may produce their own communication products and channels to share their project results. They can publish articles, organise or join networking events, or make use of their partners' networks to share their results. As a minimum requirement, they also need to disseminate the developed knowledge through the EU CAP Network and the project’s respective National CAP Network. Also advisors and training providers, and others who can help spread the knowledge, should be informed of OG results. Knowledge platforms or reservoirs, advisors’ back-offices or knowledge hubs are ideal means to do so. Such knowledge flows help the country’s knowledge and innovation system flourish.

To effectively share Operational Group knowledge in a concise and harmonised way, the 'EIP-AGRI common format' was developed. It facilitates knowledge flows on innovative and practice-oriented projects at EU level, helping them share results from the start until the end of the project.

Operational Groups can find information and results from other Operational Groups that work on similar or complementary themes in the EIP-AGRI project database on the EU CAP Network website. A unique opportunity for Operational Groups is that they can benefit from interacting with Horizon Europe multi-actor projects, including all thematic networks, and in particular the thematic networks that need to be built on the work of Operational Groups. All multi-actor projects are strongly recommended to work with Operational Groups.

Sheep on pasture

Under the AKIS strategic approach, it is essential both for National CAP Networks and for advisors (either as Operational Group partner within the project or as part of their usual advisory tasks) to support the dissemination of project results. In addition, they should foster contact possibilities between Operational Groups, and communicate on project activities from the very start. Learning from other projects that are working on similar or complementary issues can be highly inspirational, and can give the projects new knowledge or ideas on how to tackle a common challenge. This is a key task for National CAP Networks. Find out more about innovation support.

Research needs: facilitating a dialogue between practice and research

Farmers or foresters may often have the impression that research does not meet their needs. Identifying ‘research needs from practice’ can help facilitate a dialogue between researchers and those that can use these research results in practice.

The Support Facility for Innovation and Knowledge exchange | EIP-AGRI makes a yearly overview report of research needs from practice. These have been collected during networking events, through activity reports of agricultural, forestry or rural organisations, or via an online form.

All collected research needs reports will be published and become searchable on the EU CAP Network website. By making research needs visible, anyone with an interest in a common issue, including researchers, farmers or other innovators, can review them and provide answers to the identified problems. Interested parties can also decide to take up a question and try to solve it, for instance by setting up an innovative project with other partners.

The collected research needs will also become visible to national and regional policy makers and authorities, who may decide to take up specific topics in their calls for innovative projects. Information from the research needs also feeds into the programming of European Research and Innovation activities.

View the latest research needs from practice report.

Learn more about Operational Groups

English language

AKIS-related provisions for the CAP SP Regulation

(PDF – 224.57 KB)

English language

Tools for the CAP Cross-Cutting Objective

(PDF – 667.66 KB)

Innovation support

Learn more

Operational Groups in EU Member States

Learn more

Operational Groups across borders

Learn more

Operational Group projects

Learn more