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INNOVATION in current territorial economic development models: the case of smart specialisation and territorial strategies. Some reflections

Posted By Evan Shellshear, Wednesday, November 23, 2016
Updated: Tuesday, November 22, 2016

INNOVATION in current territorial economic development models

Nowadays, the crisis has accelerated a process were competitiveness merged with globalization. This led us to witness a context were not only business, but territories as well, compete for achieving a differential competitive advantage that position themselves as more attractive players in the global playground.

As a result, current economic models seek for new recipes for maintaining a sustained growth, were innovation has emerged as the way to discover new paths and opportunities to ensure that “differential competitive advantage”.

Among the different perspectives on economic growth and competitiveness, smart specialisation has arisen as a model that seems to tackled the linkage between micro competitiveness and territorial dimension of economic growth. Although it is not a complete new thesis, smart specialisation seems to combine recent trends in business and territorial fields1 to propose an integrated “way” to competitiveness and development.

Regional Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation

The “smart specialisation” trend consolidated when European Commission incorporated the concept in the logic of its Cohesion Policy for the new period until 2020. More concretely, the Commission has stabilised an ex ante conditionality for accessing European regional funds for R&D and innovation in the shape of Regional Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation (the so called RIS3). To a certain extent, this ex ante condition resulted in a hurried process to obtain a formal document with the most elements possible to “pass” the European requirement.

As the long experience shown in territorial economic development, and more concretely the European experience in regional strategies during the 90s and 00s, the difference between the success and failure in a strategic process may lay in the level of alignment between the “theoretical model” and the specific “territorial reality”. Obviously, the level of alignment is positively correlated to the time required by a process like this.

At this moment, and once most of the RIS3 experiences were finished, it is necessary to raise two issues on the strategic process of the RIS3:

  • Does the RIS3 born with the basic idea of being an instrument for economic development or rather as “ex ante" conditionality to be fulfilled?
  • Are being defined and developed the most appropriate processes for each specific regional context in order to reach a contribution to economic development or rather as requirement of a set of conditions?

While in the short term it is true that the requirements are and will be the key, it must not forget the opportunity for economic development behind the RIS3. They must be finally instrumental elements linked to the main objective of economic development of the region. In this regard, it must not be limited with the obsession of only developing a generic RIS3 able to respond to European requirements. And many of these requirements must be considered as well as changing formulas (over the future) that facilitate the contribution of economic development pursued over time.

Back to innovation issues, the way RIS3 can be considered aligned to territorial reality depend on how innovation is tacked in the concrete regional innovation system. (Radical) innovation arises, simplifying the concept, from the combination of different ideas, experiences, and capacities to generate new solutions which meet market trends (determined nowadays at international level). So, if the systematization and generalization of innovation phenomenon at regional level is possible, a continuous process of economic renewal may occur. This process has been called entrepreneurial discovery by the fathers of smart specialisation concept. In this context, entrepreneurial processes contribute to a more dynamic and, therefore, more competitive territorial economy.

Leaving aside all the theoretical developments that have enriched exceedingly the smart specialization approach and RIS3, and taking as premises all those items mentioned, what is really important to know is how to extend and systematize these processes of entrepreneurial discovery based on innovation in each territory.

Generating Wealth and Employment

The radical innovations mentioned (commercialised through entrepreneurial processes in existing organizations or newly created ones), that generate wealth and employment
contributing to the economic development of the region, should be the core of any RIS3 from a threefold approach:

1. to generate the elements of the regional context that facilitate and promote them,
2. to discover/ identify over time, and
3. to define and implement the policy instruments able to support, consolidate and anchorage them in the territory.

Besides, the experiences until led us to consider a view of RIS3 that inevitably raises two important implications:
a) the key to RIS3 do not reside in the choices/priorities in a certain moment but in the (participatory) process to reach them, and
b) a RIS3 must be an endless process, not just a document or a list of optimal choices at a particular time.

In practice, a RIS3 process is about how to generate the methodological foundations to a good analysis of regional competitiveness based on innovation (both internally and externally), to identify entrepreneurial discovery initiatives, to reach consensus about actions and instruments to support these initiatives, and to establish commitments among all agents involved around territorial possibilities in the field of innovation. And what is more important, to ensure that these channels are not punctual elements linked to the development of a strategic document, but part of a wider innovation process that also includes the implementation and monitoring.

By Jaime del Castillo, Jonatan Paton

1 That is for example, the theoretical approaches based on economic geography, clusters, regional
innovation systems, open innovation, creative classes, regional policy and territorial development, etc.

Tags:  Europe  Innovation  RIS3  Smart Specialisation 

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