Interreg Europe Policy Learning Platform organised an online discussion on the policy concept of smart specialisation strategies for sustainable and inclusive growth (S4+) on Tuesday 25 May 2021. The online discussion explored the emerging policy concept of S4+ and its implication for research and innovation policymakers.

The policy concept of smart specialisation strategies for sustainable and inclusive growth (S4+) was introduced in the Joint Research Centre (JRC) report written by Philip McCann and Luc Soete titled 'Place-Based Innovation for Sustainability'. The report highlights that the regional policy focus must shift to transformative changes. Innovation must not blindly follow competitiveness logic but must respond to broader regional and societal challenges and be an ‘intermediate step towards the longer-term goals of fostering sustainability and inclusiveness’.

Moving to S4+ is essential to address societal challenges, such as climate change, and that, to do so, regions must embrace policy experimentation while taking advantage of recovery funds (see figure 1). This is a fundamental element for the next programming period 2021-27 (Elisabetta Marinelli, Pr-i: policy-research interface). Access the presentation.

Figure 1. From S3 to S4: some reflections. Source: Elisabetta Marinelli.

Good governance is key. The design and implementation of the S4+ policy concept will require enhanced coordination from a multi-level governance perspective combining top-down directionalities with European initiatives such as the Green Deal, EU Industrial Strategy, and S3, and bottom-up processes with the Entrepreneurial Discovery Process (EDP) (Richard Tuffs, the Friends of Smart Specialisation). Access the presentation.

S4+ offers regional policy continuity with the S3 policy concept. However, institutional capacity-building for regional governments will be essential to ensure that the additional policy complexity layer does not lead to greater regional divergence in the European Union. Moreover, the S4+ policy jargon must be simplified to promote inclusiveness and greater community-engagement.

Societal challenges can be guiding principles for regional S3. In northern Netherlands, the selection of energy transition as S3 topical focus —Reliable, Clean and Efficient Energy—is the outcome of a long-term public-private leadership based on a collective vision for the future driven by economic opportunities and the response to regional societal challenges led by citizen/association groups. Following S3 principles, energy transition, which initially had a broad focus, was narrowed down and refined over the years to seize emerging sectoral opportunities such as hydrogen and identify cross sectoral cooperation potentials with digital and health sector clusters (Luc Hulsman, SNN – Northern Netherlands Alliance, presented the good practice from fear of losing jobs in the region, into a front-runner cluster in the energy transition from the Interreg Europe project CLUSTERFY). Access the presentation.

Policy Learning Platform resources

If you have any specific questions related to S4+, you can reach out to Policy Learning Platform experts directly via the policy helpdesk.