Smart Specialisation Strategy (S3) is a place-based policy concept to support regional prioritisation in innovative sectors, fields or technologies through the entrepreneurial discovery process (EDP). A bottom-up approach to reveal what a region does best in terms of its science and technology endowments.

At heart of S3 is thus the concept of EDP, which emphasises the importance to prioritise ‘investment based on an inclusive and evidence-based process driven by stakeholders’ engagement and attention to market dynamics’ (European Commission). The EDP recognises that the regional government does not have innate wisdom or the ex-ante knowledge about future priorities. Consequently, the EDP aims to select and to prioritise regional technological trajectories that should be supported through research and innovation policy tools by the regional government. 

The entrepreneurial discovery process uses different participatory models and analytical tools to avoid ill-informed decisions and to increase knowledge spill overs.

The most frequently used and latest tools are: 

  • Participatory models such as working groups, advisory boards, partnerships and public-private committees, websites tailored for citizen participation and consultation, co-creation approaches as well as methodologies based on action research approaches. 
  • Evidence-based approaches such as SWOT analysis, studies on scientific, technological and economic trends, competence and actors’ mappings, and stakeholders’ surveys. 
  • Regional innovation governance structures such as regional innovation agencies to facilitate the mobilisation of quadruple helix stakeholders—policymakers, academics, entrepreneurs, and the civil society—and provide the institutional arrangement platform to enable targeted stakeholders’ interaction and policy coordination.
  • The concept of economic relatedness reveals that new industrial sectors for a region emerge from the pre-existing regional industrial sectors. It provides a strong quantitative analytical tool to select the industrial sectors to prioritise. 

From a policy concept to the real policy world 

Many Interreg Europe projects are involved in improving policies linked to their regional Smart Specialisation Strategies. The real policy world shows that regions experiment various approaches in designing their EDP thus having valuable policy lessons for regional policymakers across countries in Europe. The following paragraphs illustrate good practices focused on the entrepreneurial discovery process (EDP). They show that regions can design their EDP on different levels: EDP by economic sector, EDP in metropolitan regions, and EDP in rural areas.

In the S3CHEM project, Asturias (Spain) provides an interesting case in implementing the EDP at the sector level, by choosing to prioritise sustainable materials. The Economic Development Agency of Asturias (IDEPA) and the Association of Chemical and Process Industries of Asturias (AIQPA) launched a Roadmap for the Regional Agenda of Sustainable Materials for Asturias that included working groups involving the most relevant regional stakeholders to identify the main markets and value chains in this sector.

The innovation experts of the Policy Learning Platform highlight the importance, in this process, to appoint a coordinator ensuring that the working groups meet regularly to identify potential weaknesses in the regional sectors and to discuss priority areas and action plans for addressing those weaknesses. 

In the HIGHER project, Innovation Stockholm is a collaborative platform that involves quadruple helix actors—public actors (CAB Stockholm, Stockholm County Council, Stockholm city, Invest Stockholm, the Association of municipalities in Stockholm County), academia (KTH, Karolinska Institute and Stockholm university), the Chamber of Commerce, national agencies, research institutes, companies, incubators and science parks—to devise and update the regional S3 at the metropolitan region level.This good practice provides an interesting case on how metropolitan regions can participate in the EDP. 

In the BEYOND EDP project, the LAG TAGUS promoting Smart Specialisation in the scope of Rural Development in the region of Extremadura in Spain provides a good practice on how the EDP can be implemented in a more rural setting. Local Action Groups (LAGs) are not-for-profit structures that are formed by multiple local stakeholders—public institutions, private actors, universities, civil society—and are operating under a bottom-up approach to elaborate regional rural development plans.When they involve the most relevant regional stakeholders, LAGs can facilitate the implementation of the EDP.

As stressed by Arnault Morisson, Thematic Expert in Research and Innovation for the Interreg Europe Policy Learning Platform, ‘the experience of the LAG TAGUS is indicative of a possible path for LAGs to design and implement a  Smart Specialisation Strategies (S3) tailored to their rural territories. As highlighted in the good practice, rural areas face different challenges compared to urban areas when supporting the innovation process. As a result, LAGs are efficient structures to identify weaknesses in the rural innovation system and finding possible solutions to address those weaknesses.’

…and it brings policy changes

Thanks to the Interreg Europe project BEYOND EDP, the Regional Development Agency of Centru in Romania has achieved an interesting policy change. Following the intensive exchange of experience and capacity building deriving from the activities of the project, the Regional Consortium for Innovation (RCI) was set up by the Centru region as the relevant governance structure of the RIS3.

The Regional Consortium for Innovation was built on the Local Stakeholder Group (LSG) with the extended involvement of clusters, SMEs, and the civil society to monitor and implement the RIS3. The creation of RCI offered the opportunity to the Region to revise the priority-setting of its RIS3 by including emerging sub-domains. Also, the updated RIS3 adopted a new overall approach, moving from a sectoral to a more cross-sectoral perspective. 

Further readings: 

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