Key Policy Messages and Conclusions

Relevant findings for other EU regions

  • 1. INTERREG IVC projects provide valuable contribution to the development of regional innovation systems
    • Our analysis has put forward evidence that the projects under the topic ‘Innovation systems (triple helix & open innovation)’ have contributed in positive ways to enhancing the capability of participating regions to develop and improve regional innovation systems. In particular, we would like to highlight the following areas where we believe that impacts are the most apparent:

      Helping regions to overcome lock-in effects

      The static regional innovation system has been recognised as a key problem for many regions and the INTERREG projects have provided a good tool for bringing movement and change into the systems!

      33% of project partners claimed that the reasons why they decided to transfer and tried to deploy a best practice, the necessity to overcome barriers to business growth by giving opportunities to SMEs to upgrade skills and human capital and to increase access to technical or strategic information.”
      (ERMIS Best Practice transfer Report)

      Increasing the capability to design effective innovation policy

      This is probably the most significant effect of the projects on regional innovation policy and ultimately on regional innovation systems. A vast majority of project participants have, according to our investigations, made advancements in the capability to design effective policy!

      73% of the project partners have influenced innovation policy and practice on the local or regional level through the project.
      (CLIQ final evaluation report)

      Increasing the capability to implement better innovation policy measures

      Although policy implementation is not at the heart of the INTERREG IVC programme, it is clear that many of the participating regional policymaking organisations have also profited when it comes to delivering policy measures. This is a very positive side-effect of the projects!

      Good complementarity and potential synergies with other EU-programmes

      Stronger connectivity among regional policymakers would lead to a better utilisation of European funding opportunities and to a better impact of European funds. There are today a number of programmes that complement INTERREG IVC, and many of the partners of the reviewed projects have made use of other programmes. However, even more could be done to utilise potential synergies!

      Creating a pan-European network of professionals

      Regional innovation policymakers constitute a community of professionals that appreciate forums and platforms for co-operation. Such a forum has not been in place since the Innovating Regions of Europe Network (IRE) was closed in 2007. To some extent, the INTERREG IVC programme fills this gap, but more could be done to create links and interaction across projects!

  • 2. The bottom line-challenges in developing regional innovation systems are very similar for many regions
    • Most projects share issues related to “problems” affecting their regional innovation systems and projects tend, at least partly, to address similar basic “functions” of innovation systems. In particular projects aim at:

      * Lowering fragmentation in regional innovation systems that are characterised by numerous actors, initiatives and projects, but which suffer from a lack of common goals and weak alignment.
      * Strengthening insufficient resources/focus to support vital innovation system functions, such as technology transfer, innovating SMEs, etc.
      * Improving system functions related to the dissemination of knowledge - primarily to SMEs.
      * Supporting the creation of synergies between actors and initiatives on a systemic level.

      It is not surprising but the fact that many projects share common basic challenges and address similar difficulties verifies the validity of the assumption that knowledge exchange on regional innovation systems and open innovation should be able to create a transfer of knowledge and practices that will help both inexperienced and advanced regions to improve their innovation policies.

      To conclude:

      A lack of resources in regional innovation systems is normally not considered to be a key barrier, the challenge lies more in a lack of governance structures and change dynamics. Governance in this context should be understood as the ability of a region to ensure optimal efficiency of the innovation system, in particular by aligning regional resources to work in joint strategic directions. The prevailing financial crisis is likely to have had an influence in the necessity to address this issue.
      A lack of change dynamics is related to the challenge of renewing the innovation system by integrating new ideas or working models. For the publicly funded organisations of innovation systems, the issue of static structures, under-critical resources and insufficient inter-organisational exchange are common.

  • 3. There are a wealth of good ideas and wisdom out there...
    • Our analysis indicates the existence of a number of conceptually similar thematic areas that are addressed in many of the projects. These policy areas are:

      - Spin-offs and incubation
      - Cluster development and management
      - Finance incl. VC Funding
      - Internationalisation
      - Tech-transfer / Research commercialisation
      - Linking SME to knowledge provides
      - Patenting / IPR

      The projects have identified approx. 500 good practices, and close to 200 that relate to the above policy areas were selected for in-depth analysis and have been described in reports and brochures. The thematic areas most commonly addressed by the good practices are 1) Spin-offs and incubation, 2) Cluster development and management, 2) Technology transfer/Research commercialisation and 3) Linking SMEs to knowledge providers. A relatively large number of good practices are close to each other in terms of purpose and how they work. Although conceptually similar, few, if any, schemes are identical, though.

      In most policy areas, the projects have identified a large number of good practices and although there are many similarities between the practices, there are also quite different approaches within the same policy area. This can be illustrated by the area ‘Technology transfer and research commercialisation’: the area boasts over 40 good practices, but there are several examples of very varying approaches to tackle the topic.

      Of the above-mentioned 200 cases, some 80 good practices can be considered (based on a number if selection criteria) as particularly promising in terms of their potential for improving regional innovation systems. There are even examples of one good practice being acknowledged by two projects independently. The Netherlands, UK and Finland seem to be well represented when it comes to being originator regions of high-potential practices. A further filtering of these practices highlights 30-40 good practices that potentially are of such quality that they should be considered for dissemination on a wider European scale.

      It should be mentioned here, however, that there also are thematic areas which are not so well covered by good practices, although they receive a great deal of attention in the European debate. Two such themes are ‘Venture and early stage funding’ and ‘Internationalisation’. The INTERREG projects we have reviewed do provide some examples of good practices in these fields, but not in proportion to the attention given in debate.

      To conclude:

      The INTERREG IVC projects in the field of Innovation systems (triple helix & open innovation) have identified a significant number of highly interesting good practices with good potential for complementing and renewing regional innovation policies around Europe. In particular, there are a number of practices addressing themes such as ‘Quadruple Helix’ collaboration and, more generally, models for linking innovation support providers with small and medium sized companies. Regional policymakers looking for inspiration are advised to consult, in particular, the good practice brochures produced by the projects.

  • 4. …but transfer of good practices demands timing and commitment
    • From the analysis, we can draw the conclusion that transferring good practices is a challenging task even if many projects share challenges, objectives and even look for similar types of good practices. There are a number of reasons for the difficulties of actually transferring a practice, and many of the projects have themselves spent quite a lot of time analysing this problem. If one assumes that the practical issues related to a transfer could be resolved (e.g. budgets, host organisation, etc.), the key barrier seems to be the absorption capacity of regional policymakers. In many cases, there is also insufficient involvement of policymakers in the projects. This has been a particular problem and was raised frequently during the Brussels thematic workshop of November 2012. In addition, it should be pointed out that there may be a conflict between:

      - the innovativeness of a practice,
      - proven success and
      - transferability

      For example, we have observed that it is often the simpler (and often less innovative) practices that are transferred between regions, whereas highly successful practices with proven impact have often developed in a specific context over a long period of time - something that tends to make a quick transfer less feasible.

      To conclude:

      Regional contextual factors must always be considered and a pure copying of good practices is seldom successful. In general, the issue of transfer is discussed at length within projects, and several have developed their own ‘good practice transfer guides’. Common observations put forward in these guides include the need for time and commitment, as well as favourable framework conditions and contextual fit. The difficulty of actually transferring a practice within the framework offered by the INTERREG programme is often highlighted. In fact, it is probably true that a certain proportion of the practices that projects claim are ‘in transfer’ will most likely influence policies (strategies, guidelines, etc.) rather than become stand-alone regional programmes or initiatives. In any case, the actual results will be difficult to monitor as they are likely to occur long after the conclusion of the projects.

  • 5. The nature of the challenges identified by projects is determinant for the emerging good practice portfolio
    • The nature and content of the good practices that projects identify is likely to depend on the character of the policy challenge addressed and the approach taken to tackle it. The projects can in this respect be divided in four groups: 1) projects with a non-specific approach targeting a wide range of challenges, 2) projects with a non-specific approach targeting a narrow challenge, 3) projects with a specific approach targeting a wide range of challenges, and 4) projects with a specific approach targeting a narrow challenge. Most projects under the theme Innovation systems (triple helix & open innovation) fall into categories 1 & 3. Only one or two projects can be said to be narrow both in terms of policy challenge and approach taken to tackle this challenge.

      To conclude:

      Projects with narrow challenges and/or narrow approaches identify relatively fewer good practices, but partners’ practices also show fewer overlaps. Projects addressing a wider range of policy challenges and wider approaches are more likely to put forward a high number of good practices with a higher likelihood of significant redundancies.

      There is no indication that there are ‘better’ good practices coming from either of the cases outlined above. However, it is important to understand that the nature of the projects significantly determines in what way policy influence and/or transfer might happen. Projects with wide challenges/approaches with a large number of good practices can hope that the sheer volume of cases will lead to some finding a recipient region. Projects with narrow scope may have a higher likelihood that a specific good practice can actually be transferred. Should this fail, however, there is little room for manoeuvre to find alternative solutions.

  • 6. Policy influence may be the most imminent impact of the projects
    • The transfer of good practices has received much attention from the projects. Policy influence may however be a more realistic achievement in the short to medium term. Yet, policy influence receives, with some exceptions, considerably less attention in the reports provided by the projects. CLIQ highlights achievements such as the Cadiz Pilot Case methodology that will be integrated into the Bay of Cadiz Foundation for Economic Development’s Strategy. Some other projects also highlight examples of policy influence, but not very extensively.

      To conclude:

      Policy influence is an important but less highlighted impact of the INTERREG IVC projects. A reason for this is likely to be the difficulty of actually validating such influence as it may take a long time before it appears. Still, policy influence may be more important than the transfer of good practices as it leaves room for adaptation to specific regional context factors and frameworks conditions.

Policy recommendations

The recognition that innovation is a key to competitiveness has in turn resulted in an increased competition between places to be the most innovating. The statements made in Europe 2020, Innovation Union and in the regulations for the next Structural Funds period are further developments of this trend. Consequently, policymakers in many regions and nations have declared an intention to develop and foster effective and efficient innovation systems as a key priority in their industrial policies. As a result, in order to boost the economic development of existing systems, their members and to attract new members, a global competition amongst place-based innovation systems has ensued. (19)

As knowledge, its diffusion and use have become more important for innovation and innovation systems, the earlier linear model of innovation has revealed its weaknesses. The systemic (or interactive) model of innovation is currently broadly accepted as a representative picture of how the innovation-driven economy works. This is a fundamental insight forming the basic rationale for all of the projects analysed within the capitalisation exercise. In practice however, what does it mean? What does regional innovation policy need to do in order to optimise the performance of innovation systems? This question is only indirectly answered by the projects themselves as their areas of intervention differ significantly (from venture capital to Intellectual Property protection).

However, it is possible to extract a set of generic framework conditions that decision-makers should strive to put in place if policies in the field are to be effective. These are:

  1. The systemic approach postulates the need for dynamic and flexible structures and processes that facilitate the diffusion of knowledge throughout the economy. The importance of this requirement has been acknowledged in particular by the projects CLIQ, in its efforts to promote Quadruple Helix co-operation, and EURIS, promoting Open Innovation.
  2. Successful innovation systems are networked mutual learning systems. All members of a regional innovation system should closely interact and learn from and in cooperation with each other, not (exclusively) from each other. In particular, clusters of firms are created, nurtured and promoted. The projects INOLINK and ERMIS paid special attention to the importance of networked systems.
  3. Successful systems are both sustainable and flexible in responding to modified/new challenges and contextual factors. Systems are developed and grow over time. Experimenting with quick changes (e.g. new organisations, closing down organisations, new laws) prevents learning about causal mechanisms and does not allow the players to learn about other players nor to build up trust-based relationships with them. Instead, in order to allow for an adaptable model, the following  should be considered:
    • Ensure the effective coordination and coherence of innovation policy.
    • Perform systematic appraisals of the institutions themselves in order to ensure that they are working towards and are adapting to market needs and policy goals.
    • Ensure good communication.
    • Promote the early involvement of stakeholders in a systematic debate on innovation policy.
    Sustainability is a common pre-condition in all projects, however, URMA and UNICREDS display particular commitment to this issue.
  4. Successful innovation systems possess a substantial amount of resources and critical mass. Such systems have well developed links with external systems from which they can access complementary know-how and competencies. Regions trying to catch up can, in particular, benefit from a strong international interweavement, where close links to international research teams and institutions can help assist and speed-up internal innovation processes and profit from existing networks.
    The achievement of critical mass through a better alignment of resources has been a key issue for most of the projects, in particular in light of the ongoing financial crisis. However, the ‘internationalisation’ of regional systems has not been a major issue, possibly with the exception of IPP.
  5. Successful innovation systems have a demand-orientation and provide the firms with knowledge and resources in respect to all the key determinants of success in innovation processes, in particular (but not exclusively) in respect to technology, management, marketing, and financing matters.
    At the heart of most projects was the goal of making the innovation system’s services more demand-oriented, a goal that was explicitly addressed by, for example, ERMIS, KNOW-MAN and KNOW-HUB. However, there are also thematic areas that are still insufficiently addressed by innovation policy. For example, our analysis indicates that it is still necessary to increase the attention given to areas such as the early stage funding of ideas and the internationalisation of clusters, SMEs and innovation support actors.
  6. More recently, attention has increasingly turned to the need for governments to change and develop institutional capabilities and governance practices more in line with a dynamic, innovation-driven economy. A third-generation innovation policy (going beyond the linear and systemic models) is emerging. It draws attention to institutional adaptation in the area of science, technology and innovation (STI) policy as well as to the need to develop innovation policy components across ministerial boundaries and thus redefine innovation policy horizontally. By implication, this will require new government capabilities. The more an economy needs to break lock-ins and develop new development paths, the more will be demanded of governmental institutions and policy-making to accommodate these changes

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