Smart Specialisation (3S) is a place-based approach to regional growth and the main component of the EU’s 2020 Innovation programme and wider 2014-2020 Cohesion policy, often referred to as RIS3 (Research and Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation). It advocates policy interventions to support regions to build upon their existing assets to innovate and generate new regional specialisms so as to acquire a competitive advantage in the global economy. The advent of digitalisation, general purpose technologies and the disruptive nature of Industry4.0 (I4.0) offer new opportunities for regional growth that can be undertaken within the RIS3 framework. One of the challenges for policy is how lagging regions can fully benefit from RIS3 and I4.0. This is especially challenging since lagging regions typically start from a low base in terms of entrepreneurial talent, skills and technological competencies; hence it is difficult for them to generate new ideas, adopt new technologies and acquire new specialisms.
Dr. Anastasiia Konstantynova (Steinbeis-Europa-Zentrum) first explored how regions might capitalise on the experience of RIS3 by continually evaluating/monitoring new priorities and by recognising the multiple stakeholders involved in RIS3 implementation. Dr. Peter Wostner (Government Office for Development and European Cohesion Policy, Slovenia) described the Slovenian S3 experience and indicated how transition to I4.0 is inevitable for both leading and lagging regions. The adoption of S3 and I4.0 technologies in lagging European regions could be enhanced by fostering extra-regional collaboration as suggested by Dr Sandrine Labory (University of Ferrara). Dr Phil Tomlinson (University of Bath) explained this represents a significant challenge for RIS3 since the incentives for leading and lagging regions to participate in collaboration based initiatives such as H2020/Interreg are often asymmetric.
Dr Román Arjona (DG Research & Innovation, Commission) chaired a panel on I4.0, highlighting the backdrop of rapidly changing innovation dynamics and lack of innovation diffusion in Europe. Prof. Lisa De Propris (University of Birmingham) reflected on regional transformations, arguing how national leadership is necessary to support regional industrial growth via disruptive (enabling) change. Dr Mafini Dosso (JRC-Seville) highlighted the need to anticipate and prepare for such changes, which Slawomir Tokarski (DG GROW) argued ought to take account of impacts on marginal societal groups. Drawing on research by Dr Antonio Vezzani (JRC-Seville), which highlights regions relatively specialised in the production of ICT-combining patents (i.e. ones combining digital and non-digital codes) tend to have a high patenting activity but a low ICT specialisation, Dirk Torfs (Flanders-Make) stated the importance of aligning I4.0 initiatives across regions and integrating R&D and production models. Overall, both businesses and workforces need to embrace rather than fear new technologies. The session was co-organised with the Regional Studies Association, the audience was involved in the discussion via Q&A and live interactive polls.
Take away message
RIS3 tools can enable the (re-)building of local capacity, mobilise resources and existing capabilities to allow regions to become more innovative. Lagging regions might benefit from forming collaborative links with actors in leading regions. However, the incentives to participate in such collaborations are asymmetric, and existing policy frameworks need to take account of this. In terms of new disruptive technologies, it is important to align Industry 4.0 policy initiatives across regions and integrate R&D and production models.
“We should not reinvent the wheel – more collaboration between advanced and lagging regions will speed up the transition to Smart Specialisation” (Dr. Anastasiia Konstantynova, (GmbH/Steinbeis-Europa-Zentrum)
“Transition to Industry 4.0 is inevitable. Many regions are proceeding too slow!” (Peter Wostner, Government Office for Development and European Cohesion Policy, Slovenia)
“The loss of manufacturing capacity adversely affects innovation capabilities. If we want manufacturing to stay in Europe, and be more innovative, the value chain needs to change” (Prof. Lisa De Propris, University of Birmingham)
“RIS3 strategies predominantly focus on value creation. They also need to start considering value capture i.e, the focus should not just be on creating value but also retaining value in the region. This is critical for sustainable regional socio-economic growth ” (Dr Phil Tomlinson, University of Bath).
“Regions relatively specialised in the production of ICT-combining patents tend to have a high patenting activity, but a low ICT specialisation” (Dr Antonio Vezzani, Joint Research Centre, Seville)
“Industry 4.0 has implications for legal rights, general working skills and labour markets” (Dr Mafini Dosso, Joint Research Centre, Seville)
“As value chains and innovation networks are global, relatedness is vital to drive industrial diversification and structural change through innovation.” (Dr Román Arjona, DG Research & Innovation, European Commission)