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ESIC Policy workshop in Limburg: Service innovation as the glue for connecting regional strongholds

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The regional work done in ESIC has reached the peer review phase. The aim of the ESIC activities carried out in all model demonstrator regions has been to assist regional policy-makers to test, update and improve their existing policies as well as to boost emerging industries by transformative service innovation. Via the expert analysis and regional self-assessment the summary assessment reports have been finalised by the ESIC consortium. The peer review phase, in turn, encourages policy learning and provides external input into the policy development of the region and leads eventually towards regional policy recommendations.

The Province of Limburg is well on its way in transforming its industry-oriented structure to a knowledge economy. Apart from implementing policies like support for campuses where high-level knowledge is created and applied, this development also involves the emergence of several initiatives focusing on service innovation. Currently, the provincial government is concerned with the question how synergies between the campuses can be improved, and how service innovation can play a role in this. The activities of ESIC are aimed at supporting this thinking.

On the 4-5 February 2014, about fifteen regional stakeholders gathered for a 1.5-day workshop to discuss Limburg’s innovation landscape and possibilities for policy intervention hosted by the Service Science Factory. Participants included representatives from the Province of Limburg, the various campuses (Chemelot, Maastricht Health Campus and Greenport) and the various service initiatives (Service Valley, Smart Services Hub and the Service Science Factory). Additionally, the ESIC-team invited several experts and peers from other regions.

The main objective of the workshop was to identify possibilities for the implementation of a large-scale demonstrator project: an initiative where the provincial government collaborates with local stakeholders in order to modernize the regional economy. The programme contained three sections to arrive at input for such a joint action plan. 

First, ample attention was given to the question how services can foster regional development. Presentations by the Service Science Factory and Service Valley showed how these institutes spread customer-oriented and service-based thinking and facilitate the incubation of service-based start-ups (respectively). A concrete example of how services can transform businesses was given by WP Haton from Panningen. Based on a presentation by ESIC, the morning session also involved a collective reflection on the strengths and weaknesses of the regional innovation system. Here, various participants as well as experts expressed the importance of utilizing local expertise in order to create attractive jobs and maintain employment.

The second part of the workshop concerned the regional policy mix. Another roundtable discussion was preceded by expert presentations and ESIC’s assessment of the Limburg policies. This input formed the basis for discussions on how to create synergies between regional strongholds like the campuses. Some campus managers noted that they are not inclined to revise their priorities and agenda’s very substantially. Instead, they would like to learn better how service-thinking can help their ‘members’ to commercialize their knowledge in novel ways. An extensive brainstorm yielded 22 insights that were later grouped to five action lines:

  • Deciding on the themes where cross-sectoral collaboration is promising, e.g. imaging, biobased, big data;
  • Deciding which forms of collaboration would be appropriate, e.g. project-based, establishing a new entity, creating shared facilities;
  • Learning and good practices: where and how could the individual campuses learn from each other?
  • Branding: (how) should the label service innovation be used to promote the region’s economic development?
  • Coordination across policy levels: how to connect to existing and new policy structures?

Finally, at day two, the workshop participants have been exchanging ideas on how prioritize and execute the jointly identified action lines. The discussion, moderated by ESIC, resulted in an improved and shared understanding of how service innovation could act as a catalyst for regional development. Stakeholders from different background expressed their interest in a scenario in which the service initiatives, together, would develop a proposition of how they could complement each other in ‘infusing’ the campuses with service-thinking. Concrete suggestions in this direction included organizing a service innovation conference, launching a service innovation award, and shaping a programme that would fit in the recently established policy measure LimburgMakers (oriented at helping manufacturing firms, including SMEs).   

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