Towards regional specialisation

Smart specialisation, INTERREG IVC, regions, ideasIn recent years, the European Commission has increasingly stressed the importance of developing a comprehensive European innovation strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth by investing in research, innovation and entrepreneurship. As set out in the document ‘Innovation Union’, published in October 2010, as well as in the ‘EU2020 Strategy’, national and regional authorities across Europe are being encouraged to draw up regional innovation strategies based on the concept of smart specialisation.

Smart specialisation is all about learning what a country or region does best. It is an important concept for regional innovation policy because it provides a strategy for regions that takes into account their specific innovation assets. It is concerned with the focused use of public research and innovation investment and provides support for member states and regions in their effort to diversify and upgrade existing industries and to strengthen their innovation capacity.

In practical terms smart specialisation looks at regional strengths and weaknesses, emerging opportunities and market developments. It then identifies the region’s existing and potential competitive advantages, areas in which it can realistically excel, relative to other regions. It therefore reflects EU priorities by preventing unnecessary duplication and misallocation of scarce resources.

At the heart of smart specialisation is the notion of policy learning (e.g. peer review  involving public officials, practitioners and regional stakeholders). Properly implemented, it is a mechanism for harnessing the benefits of regional diversity, for stimulating cooperation across national and regional borders and for creating new opportunities to ensure that knowledge flows more freely across the EU. This will allow the leverage effect of EU instruments to be optimised. 

Smart specialisation: helping regions to better define their research and innovation strategies

INTERREG IVC, smart specialisation, success, regionsTo meet the objectives set out by the Member States for research and innovation and as part of the Europe 2020 strategy, in June 2011 the EC launched a “smart specialisation platform”. This platform provides assistance to national and regional innovation policy-makers in the development and review of smart specialisation strategies. The platform provides details of the relevant EU funding programmes and regional policy support activities in research, enterprise, innovation, information society, sustainability and health and education policies.

The smart specialisation approach is one where each region should identify its high-value assets and R&I potential in order to be able to concentrate its efforts and resources on a limited number of priorities where it can really develop excellence and compete in the global economy. The platform therefore provides expertise on how to do this. This expertise comes from universities, research centres, regional authorities and businesses. This practical tool, also called the ‘S3 platform’ provides a comprehensive list for policy-makers, experts and other relevant stakeholders to share information and knowledge on smart specialisation strategies.

To quote the Regional Policy Commissioner Johannes Hahn:"Regional Policy is already largely supporting innovation in the regions. But we must ensure that EU investment creates the best possible impact on the ground. The platform will help the regions in designing forward-looking, well-designed and integrated strategies to further boost innovation, Europe\'s key driver for competitiveness".

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science adds: "This smart specialisation platform demonstrates the Commission\'s determination to bring regional policy and research and innovation policy closer together in order to get the best possible results in terms of growth and jobs. The platform will help policymakers and businesses to make full use of research and innovation potential and talent in every part of the Union. The ultimate aim is to foster and develop all over Europe the kind of world-class excellence in science and innovation that today is confined to only a few EU regions. That is a necessity if we are to transform Europe into an Innovation Union and create jobs where they are most needed."

INTERREG IVC and smart specialisation

INTERREG IVC projects contribute to the development of smart specialisation strategies

Smart specialisation, INTERRG IVC, ideas, regionsAmong the 82 projects approved under INTERREG IVC’s fourth and last calls for proposals, there are 3 projects that deal directly with smart specialisation. These offer a source of ideas and good practice for other regions implementing, or thinking about implementing smart specialisation. These projects are:

The TRES operation –  ’Towards Regional spEcialisation for Smart growth spirit’ – is working to boost smart policy processes in order to help regions to better exploit opportunities and face challenges in their efforts to become globally competitive. Led by the Tecnalia Research and Innovation Foundation and Derio (Spain), the project brings together 9 regions representing different realities and innovation ecosystems. TRES develops actions for smart innovation and growth. Through joint interregional action and by looking at new approaches, the consortium aims to increase innovation across clusters, in particular, opportunity-driven innovation, and to identify and pilot new methods and approaches.

BORDWIIS+ - ’Boosting Regional Development with ICT-Innovation-Strategies’ – this project is working to improve the environment for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) innovation and business opportunities in strategic sectors in the regions involved in the project. It also aims to serve as a blueprint for European regions in general. Given the rapid change in the ICT sector and the current financial crisis, public policy-makers are facing an increasing number of problems in identifying appropriate targets and the resources for implementing development strategies. This is particularly true at a regional level, where responsiveness and efficiency are crucial.

Policy-makers need support to develop policies that combine three fundamental components: the existing regional strengths and assets, innovation policies focusing on establishing and supporting continuous innovation in SMEs and interregional policies aimed at the most relevant technological areas.  BORDWIIS+ tackles this challenge using smart specialisation. The consortium of 10 partners from 8 regions with complementary ICT competencies and policies is performing an analysis of regional policies and assets and is preparing an ICT inventory in each region as well as a collection of good practices for collaboration. The long-term sustainability of the project’s achievements will be ensured through: a dialogue with the European Commission on the theme of smart ICT innovation strategies at a European level; the publication of recommendations in  \'ICT innovation Strategy for European Regions: Recommendations for Regional Specialisation\' as well as the design of one implementation plan per region.

INTERREG IVC, smart specialisation, regions, group work Finally, KNOW-HUB – is working to enhancing regional competencies in the strategic management of innovation policies. It addresses the lack of know-how in European regions regarding the strategic management of innovation policies with a view to improving the effectiveness of the Structural Funds operations. Even though there have been a good number of strategies developed in Europe, few, if any at all, have been fully implemented. There are few instruments that effectively eliminate the stumbling blocks associated with the knowledge-based economy in Europe, such as low demand for innovation, poor social capital, institutional barriers or poor connectivity between innovation stakeholders. This project focuses on two themes: smart specialisation strategies and policies as well as effective instruments for innovation policies. The partners are reviewing the policies and practices of the participating regions in a joint learning process. The consortium brings together 10 regions from 8 EU countries, which are regional governments or institutions directly involved in designing and implementing innovation polices.

The smart specialisation concept can be the catalyst for ideas and initiatives across Europe. However, experts and economic developers such as EURADA (i.e. European Association of Regional Development Agencies), also involved in the development of smart specialisation strategies, recommend developing measurement activities and tools as the next step.  Science & Technology indicators and systematic data collection are now needed to make smart specialisation more visible thereby allowing policymakers to fully comprehend it. This is a prerequisite for designing and delivering innovative policy responses to science, technology and innovation issues.

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