A warm welcome for
the knowledge economy

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IN.TRACK
Four of Europe’s outermost island regions are on the way to becoming true knowledge economies, thanks to the IN.TRACK project.

A ‘knowledge economy’ means using knowledge, particularly technological and innovation knowledge, for economic benefit. In the rush to develop the knowledge economy it is important that smaller, less developed or remote regions are not left behind due to lack of expert help and resources. However, encouraging a knowledge economy can be a two-edged sword, with bigger and wealthier regions forging ahead while smaller ones flounder, widening the gap between stagnation and growth.

To avoid this and help all EU regions reap the maximum benefits from the growing knowledge economy, the ‘Regions of Knowledge’ initiative was created. Regions of Knowledge is an EU pilot action which consists of 14 projects that are developing strategies to implement the knowledge-based economy through cooperation and technological development between regions.

IN.TRACK is one of these 14 projects and is working with 4 regions – Madeira, Crete, Sicily and the Canary Islands – to support new measures to promote technological development and inter-regional cooperation between peripheral EU regions.

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Four regions, four action plans

These islands are all major tourist destinations whose beautiful landscapes attract thousands of visitors every year. Before tourism soared in the 1970s they were almost solely agriculture based, producing fruit, vegetables, wine and olives.

The regions all have very specific qualities. In spite of the rapid expansion of tourism, Crete still has a thriving agricultural economy and supplies much of Greece with fruit and vegetables. The Canary Islands traditionally produce bananas, tomatoes, potatoes and tropical fruit, while Sicily exports lemons and oranges and Madeira produces handicrafts, wine and tobacco. What characterises all four regions, however, is their geographic isolation.

IN.TRACK had four main objectives. The first of these was an evaluation of the current innovation and technology knowledge and an assessment of the possible value of knowledge in the islands. The second was to launch a professional awareness raising process to publicise the Regions of Knowledge idea. The third was to ensure that key people in the area (such as scientists, technologists, regional authorities and investors) were involved. The fourth was to develop an inter-regional network to enhance the exchange of learning and experiences through shared plans of action.

Creating a knowledge economy blueprint

The project set out to develop integrated strategies to create knowledgebased policies tailored to each region. In order to achieve this, three methods of analysing the regions’ present circumstances and future needs were carried out: First came a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats), a well established method of business analysis which detailed the present situation in each region. The results of this exercise provided a clear picture of how knowledgebased development should be carried out in each region.

Secondly, another business tool called a Strategic Gap Analysis showed where the ‘gaps’ were in the knowledge economy of each region and helped to pinpoint the actions needed. Thirdly, a European Awareness Scenario Workshop, which is a business workshop using a technique called the Regional Foresight Methodology, was held.

Usually the foresight methodology tool consists of brainstorming sessions and filling in questionnaires, but IN.TRACK took this a stage further and introduced a well-structured and consensus building methodology with dialogue and collaboration between representatives of the regions including investors, technology experts, administrators and representatives from regional business.

These discussions focused on many issues concerning the islands’ attitudes to the knowledge-based economy and covered economic, political, technological, cultural and social values. At the end of the workshop, one of the main results of the project was formulated – a set of four blueprints listing what needs to be achieved in each region.

Towards a better quality of life

Out of the blueprints came four regional action plans in which the islands focused on particular areas. For example, the Cretan partners made a list of actions to be carried out with the help of regional authorities.

These involved infrastructure, the modernisation of the agricultural sector, the development of the tourism sector, integrating research and education into the island’s economy, and raising society’s awareness of the importance of a knowledge economy.

As a result of the blueprints the IN.TRACK partners formulated the following collective statement on their intentions for their regions: ‘The regions of the Canary Islands, Crete, Sicily and Madeira strive to accomplish the goals of a diversified economy based on the information society and the converging technologies, while strengthening an innovation culture based on private-public partnerships aimed at enhancing the society’s orientation towards education, research and continuous training. Additionally, they share the vision that a cohesive society will be developed by the growth of the societal capital of the four regions sustaining high quality of life standards, desirable to any European citizen.’

For these four regions the opening up of the knowledge economy is a way to a better quality of life, better job prospects and improved regional competitiveness.

One of the best things about the IN.TRACK model is that it is very flexible. A strong focus on workshops and discussions at a local level gives enough flexibility to allow many different opinions to be heard and a region’s own strengths, culture and identity to play a part in creating its knowledge economy. The IN.TRACK model is now going to be carried out in other very culturally distinctive regions such as the Balearic Islands, the Azores, Sardinia, Corsica and Scotland’s highlands and islands.