Implementing a New Policy Concept - Smart Specialisation

Over the past few years, the concept of Smart Specialisation has been diffused at surprisingly rapid pace among European regions. The latest economic crises, in combination with demographic challenges, climate changes and increased global competition, have increased European attention to research, innovation and entrepreneurship. To implement the strategy Europe 2020 for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth Smart Specialisation strategies were introduced as a way to increase efficiency in research and innovation investments by integrating policy areas, applying a broad definition of innovations and stimulating collaboration - between regions, sectors and levels. In this issue of Nordregio News, we make an effort to discover what Smart Specialisation is all about, and to understand the concept from a Nordic perspective.

With the development of Research and Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation (RIS3) expected to be an ex-ante condition in the new Structural Funds Programmes; the concept has achieved great attention at the national and regional levels, particularly among EU member states.

In the first article What is Smart Specialisation?, Inger Midtkandal and Jens Sörvik, from the S3 Platform in Seville, explore the concept and the context in which it has evolved. They argue that Smart Specialisation builds on accumulated knowledge from earlier programmes, but that some alterations, including strategic processes and stakeholder involvement, are needed to increase efficiency in its implementation. The S3 Platform has been established by the European Commission to support regions in their processe s to develop RIS3-strategies. It provides various types of services, including information, assessment tools, workshops and other events.

One of the over 100 member regions of the S3 Platform in Seville is the Finnish Lahti region. This is a region that was hit hard by the decline in trade with the Soviet Union during the early 1990´s. It is also a region with a low level of education and scientific research, contributing to a slow economic development. In the second article, Towards Smart Specialisation - The Lahti Region, Vesa Harmaakorpi and Tomi Tura present how the region has attempted to turn the situation around. Even if the concept as such had not yet been diffused, the Lahti region started to implement Smart Specialisation to develop a regional profile and to initiate more efficient economic development. As a consequence of this, regional bodies have prioritised three top areas of expertise, based on regional strengths; environment/clean tech, design and practice-based innovation. The three areas will be combined in what is described as a 'meta platform'.

Finally, I have given some personal reflections on Smart Specialisation in my article The Rapid Diffussion of a New Policy Concept, based on my encounters with the concept and a recent Nordregio study (link) on its early implementation in regional policy in the Nordic countries. The study was commissioned by one of the Nordic Working Groups, initiated by the Nordic Council of Ministers. It is clear that the concept has received the greatest attention in EU member states, but that the national approaches also vary between Sweden, Denmark and Finland. The study indicates that there are only a few regions that have started processes to develop specific RIS3. Still, numerous Nordic regions are already implementing many of the elements and policy tools associated with a successful strategy for Smart Specialisation, even if the concept has not been applied. A final version of the study will be presented in December 2012.

We hope you enjoy reading Nordregio News!

Maria Lindqvist

Senior Research Fellow

and the Editorial Board

Back to Nordregio News Issue 5, 2012