At the 17th of January in Sevilla, the European Commission’s S3 Platform launched a new series of Peer Exchange and Learning (PXL) workshops. PXL workshops provide regions with the possibility to share knowledge and experiences about RIS3 implementation with their peers, as well as discuss the challenges they face.

The role of policy instruments in implementing RIS3

This first meeting in Sevilla centered around policy instruments. The Northern Netherlands Alliance (SNN), member of the Beyond EDP project, was one of the three European regions invited by the S3 Platform to present its vision and approach. Castilla Y Léon (FuesCyl) and Centre-Val de Loire (Dev'up), members of the Beyond EDP project, were among the participants at the event.

In his presentation, Luc Hulsman emphasized that, for the SNN, smart specialisation is about refining choices. It is about discovering niches with true potential and about creating a climate in which discoveries can be made – a climate in which entrepreneurial discovery (EDP) takes place on a continuous basis.

SNN’s Open Innovation Call

In Sevilla, the SNN presented a new policy instrument with which it intends to foster continuous EDP: an ‘Open Innovation Call’. Inspirational sessions at Beyond EDP-events were instrumental in designing this new call.

The Open Innovation Call enables funding for collaborative initiatives which aim for new ‘discoveries’ – discoveries which can lead to innovations that have the potential to grow into new niches and, ultimately, new strengths for the economy of the Northern Netherlands.

The call is essentially an open invitation for consortia to develop initiatives which contribute to this objective. It’s up to the consortia to define and model the initiative and reach the main objective.

The Northern Netherlands Innovation Monitor

Refining choices means finding arguments – or evidence – to do so. What kind of innovative behaviour do SME’s in the Northern Netherlands display? And where do promising new activities emerge? These questions formed the rationale for the SNN to develop the Northern Netherlands Innovation Monitor.

In this joint initiative, the University of Groningen and the SNN are acquiring detailed insights into the characteristics and behaviour of SME’s. The Monitor is a multi-annual project and powered by a large-scale yearly survey among SME’s in the region.

Right from its inception in 2015, the Monitor has been a very succesful project. It provides the SNN with extremely valuable insights, which it can use to optimitize its policy instruments and increase the effectiveness of its policy.

Horizontal and vertical policy instruments

In Sevilla, the SNN engaged in stimulating discussions about choices between generic (‘horizontal’) support measures and measures which are aimed at the development of specific areas or niches (‘vertical’). The discussions were based upon questions such as (1) “How to support specific areas?”, (2) “At what stage of development is there a incentive for governments to do so?” and (3) “How to make the demarcation?”.

From all the valuable input that was gathered, the SNN concludes that finding a balance between generic and specific is key. Regions shouldn’t develop specific instruments too soon, as the main role for governments lies in the optimalization of continuous EDP – especially in the beginning stages. However, fostering specific discoveries shouldn’t happen too late late either, as regions might loose the momentum for promising discoveries to attain critical mass.

Overall, the design of effective policy instruments requires a clear understanding of SMEs innovation needs. Periodic surveys, like the Innovation Monitor, are very usefull to fill the knowledge gap. An inclusive approach in policy design and implementation is key. Stakeholder engagement in the design of policy instruments can certainly improve their effectiveness.

And finally, greater flexibility is needed in ESIFs rules and projects' assessment criteria to allow for more experimentation.