Smart Specialisation’ and Cohesion policy – a strategy for all regions?

Cite as: Charles, D., Gross, F., & Bachtler, J. (2012) Smart Specialisation' and Cohesion policy - a strategy for all regions? IQ-Net Thematic Paper, Vol 30, No.2, European Policies Research Centre, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow

Regional innovation policies have been promoted by the EU for almost two decades. The development of the EU approach in terms of concepts, policy content and funding constitutes a ‘journey’ in several respects. Over time, the concept of regional innovationstrategies has evolved and become somewhat mainstreamed in Europe’s regions. It is beingfurther developed at present through the extension to ‘smart specialisation strategies forregional innovation’ in response to the Europe 2020 strategy. Research among IQ-Net partner countries and regions indicates varied approaches to strategy development, with examples of well-established strategies, strategies still under development and emerging strategies. Moreover, innovation strategies can be more or less formalised, they are not necessarily stand-alone documents and can be interlinked with other related strategies.

Among regional innovation strategies, there are many similarities in terms of the development process and content. Most IQ-Net partners define innovation in broad terms with a general move towards greater support for innovation in businesses, including less technology-oriented sectors. Efforts have also been made to make strategies more targeted with clusters receiving renewed attention in the context of the smart specialisation agenda.The increasing importance of innovation in Structural Funds programmes suggests that innovation strategies and programming documents need to be connected more closely. At present, the links are variable, ranging from close integration to a parallel co-existence of the two. At the same time, the specific role of Structural Funds in innovation policy varies depending on the amount of funding available.

Based on experience of implementing innovation strategies, several lessons can be drawn in terms of collaborative leadership and commitment, a clear allocation of responsibilities and effective coordination mechanisms, partnership arrangements and institutional capacity. More consideration perhaps need to be placed on the development of smart specialisation strategies in weaker regions so the difficulties can bemore clearly identified and addressed in the guidance. There is a need to recognise thatthe smart specialisation journey is likely to be a difficult one for many regions and withmany false starts and missed turnings. This will require patience and much support but thefocus so far is on the theory rather than the practice.

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