Strengthening the capacity of regions to invest in and carry out research and innovation activities is vital if Europe is to succeed in its fight for growth and jobs. Stronger regional research and innovation capabilities will also boost local employment, help research institutions to attract and retain top-level staff, and develop local business capability to expand into new markets.
The prosperity of regional economies increasingly depends on the development of innovation clusters, whereby a number of interconnected and interdependent companies and knowledge institutions interact continuously to advance knowledge and innovation to deliver new products and services. Research and innovation activities at regional level often rely on the development of such clusters, which bring together universities, research centres, enterprises, regional authorities and other stakeholders from across Europe. These clusters are capable of creating dynamic research and innovation environments, helping knowledge transfer, and facilitating collaborations between regions and institutions that might otherwise never meet.
The Regions of Knowledge programme, with a total budget of €126 million over seven years (2007-2013), encourages cross-border co-operation among research-driven clusters. Although it is not a ‘cohesion’ activity (no geographical criteria apply), it plays a vital role in bringing some of Europe’s poorest and most isolated regions into the European Research Area. Supported activities are not research projects but coordination actions that target the coordination of mutual research agendas and knowledge exchange. Actions cover a wide range of subjects, but the objective is always to promote European competitiveness by stimulating the use of regional assets.
Regions of Knowledge initiatives often begin with an analysis of the economic and research situation of the regions involved. Research agendas are then integrated through the formulation of Joint Action Plans. The emergence of new research-driven clusters is often supported through mentoring by more mature clusters. Strategies for internationalisation are drawn up, and conclusions, best practice and experiences are shared via conferences, workshops, publications and web-based initiatives.