‘Smart’ regions and cities embody sustainability and inclusiveness by leveraging technology and innovation as well as a place-based (or community-centric) approach to decision making. The latter entails a close and sustained engagement with stakeholders as well as a strategic outlook on tackling sustainability both through short-term and long-term measures, supporting industries and business models that can enhance digital and twin transitions. Yet, it can be difficult to identify policy instruments that allow for adequate experimentation. Moreover, the governance of innovation and sustainability is, by definition, multi-level, requiring coordination between national and EU bodies (a notoriously complex task). This is where Smart Specialisation Strategies (S3) come into play.
Starting with community
The foundational principles of S3 – specialisation, prioritisation and participation for knowledge-based development – are firmly rooted in research, innovation and targeted territorial approaches. According to the New European Innovation Agenda, S3 can play a vital role in responding to pressing issues of our time, including: reducing fossil fuel reliance, enhancing global food security, embracing digital transformation, advancing healthcare and achieving circularity.
Since 2014, over 180 Smart Specialisation Strategies have been developed to promote broad-based innovation based on the strengths and assets of each region. These strategies are being developed and implemented through a collaborative process that involves public administration bodies, universities and other research and higher education institutions, businesses, industry and social partners.
Robust governance of the S3 process throughout the whole programming period is essential in order to turn the existing strategies into a dynamic transformative tool for European regions, in particular the less developed ones.
To that end the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy (DG REGIO) set up the European S3 Community of Practice (S3 CoP) as the central node on guidance, networking, support and peer-learning on S3, covering conceptual development and implementation. The S3 CoP builds on a decade of experience. It provides policy practitioners with a broad set of strategic services, by understanding their needs and co-designing solutions on any relevant S3 aspect (e.g. the seven enabling criteria).
Stated simply, the S3 CoP creates a free and enabling space for stakeholders interested in smart specialisation to learn and advance together. The key activities, coordinated by the Technopolis Group-led consortium, are articulated along the following services:
- S3 CoP website: the main hub for sharing news, good practices and inviting the community to participate
- 3 thematic Working Groups: Innovation Diffusion, Industrial Transformation and Interregional Cooperation
- Expert Group: bringing together researchers and practitioners to further examine the S3 concept in the current global policy landscape
The S3 CoP agenda
S3 Forum on 28 November 2023 (Barcelona)
The S3 Forum offers stakeholders a unique opportunity to network, discuss S3 implementation, and exchange insights and examples of best practices. This year’s Forum marked the first EU-level, in-person gathering on S3 since the COVID-19 pandemic. It focused on new challenges facing national and regional policy makers when it comes to smart specialisation. Speakers from the European Commission, as well as regional and national authorities involved in S3 implementation, shared insights, including:
- A policy update on the latest S3 policy developments related to the I3 Instrument and the Regional Innovation Valleys Initiative, and the interplay with relevant clusters
- Networking opportunities to engage with and connect with like-minded S3 stakeholders, learn from one another and explore opportunities for cooperation
- Interactive sessions, zooming in on the seven S3 fulfilment criteria covering the main success factors of Smart Specialisation Strategies, with respect to design, implementation and monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, with presentations on the latest related activities within the S3 CoP and regional experiences
- Lessons learned and experiences with the Interregional Innovation Investments Instrument and the European Innovation Ecosystems with presentations by successful region-led consortia.
All PowerPoint presentations from the Forum are available here.
The S3 Observatory was launched at the end of November 2023. It aims to establish a comprehensive and interactive platform that offers an overview of S3 across the EU. The observatory provides an interactive map that allows to navigate EU S3 strategies by different economic, scientific and policy taxonomies. Moreover, it offers a unique repository of information on individual strategies, including links to the different strategies, their contact points, their priorities, their engagement in S3 partnerships and key socio-economic data to facilitate benchmarking.
Altogether the S3CoP is the main forum for regions to learn, exchange and network on Smart Specialisation Strategies. The project is now producing visible outputs, following a year of intense activities often carried out in the background.
Technopolis Group in the vanguard
To reiterate, Technopolis Group is leading the S3 CoP Secretariat consortium, in partnership with IDEA Consult, EFIS, Opix, CIVITTA, Old Continent, WMH, as well as 4FRONT, ERRIN and Vanguard Initiative. As well as coordinating the whole project and actively contributing to all project activities, Technopolis is leading the Expert Group, the Targeted Support activities, the Working Group on Industrial Transformation and knowledge-capitalisation efforts. Targeted expert support is also available to regions, addressing their specific needs on a demand basis. Organisational support and event coordination are also provided to bring together practitioners and stakeholders.
Gianelle, C., D. Kyriakou, C. Cohen and M. Przeor (eds) (2016), Implementing Smart Specialisation: A Handbook, Brussels: European Commission, EUR 28053 EN, doi:10.2791/53569.