Next 2 September 2021, the Joint Research Centre S3 Platform will present their “study on prioritisation in Smart Specialisation Strategies in the EU”. This is the fifth report the JRC has produced, covering a full range of interesting aspects related to the Smart Specialisation Strategies.

The study aims to address the following three overarching questions:

  • Has a prioritisation been achieved in the S3 strategies?
  • To what extent do the selected priorities reflect the regional profile?
  • How have the S3 strategies and the selected priorities been implemented?

It gives two important policy recommendations for S3 sector prioritisation such as:

  • The identification of potential priority areas requires a more holistic, fine-grained, and dynamic perspective.
  • Potential priority areas of S3 strategies need to be positioned in a global perspective.

The report identified four groups of strategies, each one characterised by a relatively similar prioritisation approach in the correspondence of the S3 strategies with the regional profiles (see Figure 1). Please register here to participate in their event!

Figure 1. Groups of S3 strategies according to the correspondence of their S3 priority areas with the regional/national profiles. Source: Prognos / CSIL (2021).

The other four reports also offer interesting lessons learned from the programming period 20214-2020 and perspectives on the future.

The report titled the Smart Specialisation Policy Experience: Perspective of National and Regional Authorities uses a survey gathering views and reflections of S3 implementing authorities on their policy experience. The survey highlights the main elements of the Smart Specialisation policy concept and consists of four sections: implementation, governance, Entrepreneurial Discovery Process (EDP), and monitoring and evaluation. The results of the survey show that the S3 implementation has been more difficult in less-developed regions hinting at the importance of capacity-building and institutional capabilities. S3, however, has supported the adoption and diffusion of more inclusive forms of governance in innovation policy across the EU.

The report titled Assessing Smart Specialisation Governance delved deeper in S3 governance. The report notes, once again, that S3 has made the decision-making process and the governance of innovation policy more inclusive. For instance, in many cases S3 has led to the reorganisation and/or establishment of coordination bodies, platforms, thematic working groups, and/or clusters to strengthen collective decision-making and public-private collaboration.

The report highlights the importance for managing authorities to experiment with new forms of governance and institutional arrangement to respond to the increased pressure for effective horizontal and vertical coordination. Governance, which is a collective process for decision-making, is too often facing a silo approach in governments.


Figure 2. Level of Stakeholders’ participation in the RIS3 strategy (in %). Source: JRC.

The report titled an intervention-logic approach for the design and implementation of S3 strategies provides tools to improve the overall coherence of the implementation of the S3 reconciling bottom-up discovery processes and top-down EU-level policies. The report invites policy makers to address the questions about the ‘why’ (is the intervention addressing a problem?), the ‘who’ (what is the target of the intervention?), and the ‘how’ (do I have financial and administrative resources?).

Figure 3. Checking of the coherence of the planned public intervention through S3 strategy. Source: JRC.

To appreciate the strengths of the intervention logic the following questions should be addressed:

  • Are the chosen Smart Specialisation areas related to the existing capabilities of the regional eco-system (external coherence)?
  • Do the investment priorities match stakeholders' needs and expectations (relevance)?
  • Is the funding allocated to intervention fields realistic and coherent between each other (internal coherence)?
  • Are the target indicators coherent with the planned resources (internal coherence)?
  • Are the target indicators coherent between each other (internal coherence)?
  • What is the contribution of each area of specialisation to the target indicators (impact)?
  • Are the target indicators supported by previous achievements, new trends and benchmarking (external coherence)?

The report titled Exploring Synergies between EU Cohesion Policy and Horizon 2020 Funding across European Regions emphasises better aligning research and innovation funding schemes. Over the course of the 2014-2020 period, the European Union has invested more than €125bn into support to research and innovation through two main channels: the excellence-based Horizon 2020 programme and its cohesion policy implemented through the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF), and in particular the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

While projects funded by ESIF are selected in the context of place-based operational programmes and smart specialisation strategies (S3), Horizon 2020 grants are assigned based on the quality of the project proposals and consortia without any geographical criteria. The report highlights that there is a considerable variation in the number of synergies within Member States and not a single pattern of the occurrence and frequency of synergies (see Figure 4 and 5).

Figure 4. Number of synergies per NUTS-2 region
referring to Societal Grand Challenges. Source: JRC.

Figure 5. Number of synergies per NUTS-2 region
referring to Key Enabling Technologies (KETs). Source: JRC.

These reports are the latest interesting analyses carried out by the S3 Platform, also with the view of preparing the ground to the next generation of Smart Specialisation Strategies which should be implemented with the awareness of what has been experienced in the current programming period. The S3 Platform regularly provides information and analysis on the implementation of S3 across EU regions and countries. You can stay informed on the latest updates and interesting data with their newsletter.

For an insight into the experiences of Interreg Europe projects with S3, you can read the Interreg Europe Policy Learning Platform policy brief on Smart Specialisation Strategy (S3).