How do European Regions and Cities tackle Smart Specialisation?

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The Hub was delighted to accept an invitation to join and present at a meeting of the HIGHER Project, a collaboration of nine European organisations under the Interreg Europe Programme, which aims to improve the innovation framework and the smart specialisation strategies of different EU regions and cities.

The Greater Cambridgeshire and Greater Peterborough LEP (GCGP LEP) is one of the project partner and hosted the latest project meeting on the 29th and 30th March at the Future Business Centre in Cambridge.

Regions and cities: the different approaches

The meeting offered a great forum for a lively and insightful exchange around the different approaches taken by various European regions and cities trying to implement and improve innovation and smart specialisation strategies and their supporting policy instruments. Partners from Portugal, Spain, Italy, Slovenia, Sweden and the UK shared their experiences, best practice and case studies, highlighting what steps have been taken, what worked and what didn’t work in their respective countries.

Entrepreneurial Discovery Process (EDP) – Why SMEs should be bothered

Looking at some of the barriers for the implementation of effective Smart Specialisation Strategies, Nelli Mikkola, a Research Fellow at Nordregio, a leading Nordic and European research centre for regional development and planning, highlighted a study from Cappello & Kroll from 2016. The authors identified the following bottlenecks in their article “From theory to practice in smart specialization strategy: emerging limits and possible future trajectories”:

  • The lack of local preconditions and capacity for innovation;
  • Difficulties in policy prioritisation: a tendency exists to replicate at the local level what is thought to be strategic at the national and worldwide levels;
  • Repositioning of regions in international value chains can often not be controlled by policymakers (e.g. major multinational actors, global corporate strategies);
  • ‘SMEs cannot be bothered’ due to lack of resources for absorptiveness and creativity > entrepreneurial discovery process becomes publicly driven.

These were challenges which resonated with all the attendees, the quest of getting businesses engaged and involved in the development and implementation of Smart Specialisation Strategies. It is understandable that SMEs only have limited resources and need to prioritise carefully where to spend time and effort. However, getting involved with their local area’s economic development by collaborating with other businesses, universities and Local Government, trying to influence local decision making and helping to create an attractive environment in terms of infrastructure, skills, etc. will give SMEs a crucial advantage for their longer-term sustainability and growth.

Stockholm’s City Vision 2040 – Stockholm will be the world’s smartest city

The most ambitious and clearest future vision of the day came from Stockholm, whose aim it is to become the world’s smartest city by 2040. Their approach and message is simple: intensive stakeholder engagement and ensuring involvement of the wider community is key. All ideas, feedback and input are welcomed and valued, the only rule is that it must “not be boring”.

Stockholm is home of one of the leading ICT clusters in the world, thanks to early triple helix collaboration plans, which saw academia, industry and the public sector joining forces. This more recently led to the creation of the Urban ICT Arena, an arena and testbed which aims at developing sustainable cities, boosting innovation and securing the jobs of tomorrow. Stakeholders can get engaged in a variety of activities, such as ideathons, round tables, seminars and other events, as well as through the project’s online platform. A great example, which shows what’s possible to achieve through effective public-private sector collaboration.

And what about Smart Specialisation in England?

Listening to the various case studies and examples from other European regions and cities and sharing our Hub experience from our work in England and the rest of the UK, crystallised that we face similar challenges and that the UK is on a very similar maturity level in terms of adopting and implementing Smart Specialisation principles as the other countries.

There is still work to be done, but there are very encouraging pockets of excellence and best practice, where great examples of strong clusters and public-private sector collaborations can be found. Of all the regions and cities in England, the North East stands out with its development and implementation of a coherent innovation strategy, and the £400m Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund, which is financed by the European Regional Development Fund, the British Business Bank, the European Investment Bank and the United Kingdom government and is a collaboration between the British Business Bank and ten Local Enterprise Partnerships.

Even though Brexit will mean that UK regions will lose access to ERDF funding, the principles behind Smart Specialisation remain sound and are possibly even more relevant and important than before. Smart Specialisation is a powerful tool for place-based, innovation-driven growth. Experience in Europe has shown that the methodology has more recently being applied to urban and local developments as well as to the creation of industrial and energy policies.

The Hub is keeping up-to-date on these latest advances and is linking closely with the UK Governments new Industrial Strategy and the new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. Don’t forget that you can still give your input to the UK Government’s consultation on the Industrial Strategy until the 17th of April: Industrial Strategy Consultation.

The Hub also remains closely involved with the Science and Innovation Audit (SIA) process, supporting and being member of various Steering Committees and Thematic Groups of Wave 2 SIA consortia. The announcement of successful SIA consortia in Wave 3, which closed for submission of Expressions of Interest on 13 January 2017, is expected imminently.

Please contact the author, Viola Hay, Smart Specialisation Hub Project Manager, if you have any questions or comments on the subject of this piece: viola.hay@ktn-uk.org.

About the author

Viola Hay joined the Hub in October 2015. She is mainly responsible for the smooth running of stakeholder engagement activities throughout the East of England.

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