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The landscape of regional innovation in Länsi-Suomi, Finland

Description

Overview of innovation policies

Länsi-Suomi (Finnish for “Western Finland”) is among the bigger regions in Finland in terms of population, economic activity as well as innovation activity. Strong national policy co-ordination has affected the development of the R&D base in Länsi-Suomi, based on the systemic approach to innovation policy at the national level since the early 1990s. The approach has emphasised the importance of interdependencies among research organisations, universities, firms, and industries due to the increasing importance of knowledge as a competitive asset.

Innovation policies in Finland are for the most part planned at the national level, reflecting the relative weakness of Finnish regions vis-à-vis the central government. Therefore it should be acknowledged that Länsi-Suomi is not an administrative unit as such. Consequently regional innovation policy varies between different sub-regions. In this respect the region as a whole does not have a clearly uniform innovation policy.

The cities and city-regions in Länsi-Suomi have a strong local innovation policy focus and have introduced their own innovation policy instruments and support organisations. Although many of these organisations typically cover the whole city-region or the administrative region, in practice innovation policy in Länsi-Suomi has a strong mix of national and local policies instead of a strong regional dimension.

The main national instrument targeting regional innovation policy has since 1994 been the Centre of Expertise programme (OSKE), aimed at generating new innovations, products and services by supporting specialisation between regions to develop international competitiveness. OSKE covers the following fields in Western Finland: digibusiness[1], energy technology, food development, forest industry, healthbio[2], health and well-being, intelligent machines, maritime, nanotechnology, tourism and experience management, and ubiquitous computing. In practice OSKE activity has been concentrated in the main cities.

OSKE has been a coordinating programme with the majority of funding coming from other sources to various development projects carried out under the OSKE umbrella. This funding includes, amongst other EU structural funds, Tekes-funding and funding from the municipalities. According to the final evaluation of the programme, OSKE has been well placed in its goals against changes occurred in the global innovation activities. On the other hand, the magnitude of structural changes Finland faced during the programme period was so large that it was not possible to address all challenges.

The four-year regional development programmes, built on statistical data (regarding the economy, employment and unemployment, migration, education, industrial structure), foresight activity as well as discussions among the key stakeholders, steer R&D activities at the NUTS3 level. The regional development programmes have a strong link to the priorities set in the ERDF programmes. Thus the EU structural funds are also an important instrument for regional innovation policy, and a significant part (26.7% in the 2007-2013 period) of the structural funds have been devoted to innovation related activities in Finland.

The priorities related to innovation and knowledge in the Structural Funds Operational Programme 2014-2020 are linked with the upcoming Innovative Cities programme 2014-2020 (INKA), which replaces the OSKE-programme. INKA represents a step away from cluster-based regional development towards thematic ecosystems. The new programme is anticipated to be more dynamic compared with OSKE. Also the structure will be different. INKA will be coordinated by Tekes and implemented by cities whereas OSKE was coordinated by the Ministry of Employment and the Economy and implemented for the most part by regional science and technology parks. Three city-regions from Länsi-Suomi have been selected for the INKA programme, with the following themes (responsible city in brackets): cyber safety (Jyväskylä), smart city and renewable industry (Tampere), and sustainable energy solutions (Vaasa). The future themes and partners in the INKA programme are presented below, with the partnering cities from Western Finland highlighted:

  • Bioeconomy: Joensuu, Jyväskylä and Seinäjoki
  • Sustainable energy solutions: Vaasa, Lappeenranta and Pori
  • Future Health: Oulu, Kuopio, Capital region, Tampere and Turku
  • Smart city and renewable industry: Tampere, Lahti, Oulu, Capital region ja Turku
  • Cyber safety: Jyväskylä

The most important source of funding for innovation activities is Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation. According to the evaluation of Tekes (2012), funding granted to companies has increased both competitiveness and productivity in those enterprises. Tekes does not have any specific regional dimension in its criteria for funding, i.e. funding is allocated based on applications from companies all over Finland. Slightly over 18% of all Tekes RDI funding for companies came to Länsi-Suomi in 2011.    

Governance

In innovation policy, there are no formal regional organisations covering the whole Länsi-Suomi region. Regional governance is carried out by the Regional Councils, covering five such regions.  The Regional Councils steer the regional development and they are, for example, responsible for administering the Structural Funds in their regions. In addition to the regional councils, the regional ELY-centres (Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment) responsible for central government activities in the regions, play a key role in regional innovation policy. Third main stakeholders are the municipalities with their own resources for development (municipalities have the right to levy an income tax and therefore have independent financial resources). Indeed, the local level has a relatively wide range of powers in Finland.

Regional Councils (at NUTS3 level) are responsible for the preparation of the regional development programmes. In practice regional governance is therefore steered by the Regional Council in collaboration with the ELY-centres and municipalities. In terms of innovation policy, the situation is generally equivalent: Regional Councils are responsible for coordinating the work with RIS3. However, in practice many of the activities are coordinated through various intermediaries including science and Technology Parks, regional development agencies (typically owned by the municipalities) as well as the central government funding and activities coordinated through the ELY-centres.

The municipalities in Finland are relatively strong actors compared with many other countries and particularly the bigger cities and towns (e.g. Tampere and Jyväskylä in Länsi-Suomi) have had a very active role in local economic development and innovation policy, often related to support in building the local innovation environment. Since the municipalities have very different sizes and they differ by their characteristics, their ability to work in the field of innovation policy varies significantly.

RIS3

Länsi-Suomi does not have a unified RIS3 strategy. The five administrative regions will have their own regional development strategies. Some regions have already prepared their strategies in 2012 while in other regions the strategy process is still in the process of being updated to be in line with the smart specialisation concept. Only Etelä-Pohjanmaa and Pirkanmaa from Länsi-Suomi are registered in the RIS3 platform.

The RIS3 process is for the most part coordinated with the preparation of the Cohesion Policy in Finland and more specifically the next Structural Funds period. For the 2014-2020 period there will be only one unified Structural Funds programme for the whole country, which covers both ERDF and ESF. The structural funds activities in the field of innovation policy are closely linked with the new national INKA-programme and the RIS3 strategies are closely linked to these main regional innovation policy instruments.

Thus the regional RIS3 strategies reflect the more local development challenges in coordination with the national innovation policy, but at the same time there is not a specific unified regional innovation strategy for the whole Länsi-Suomi.

List of interviewees

Petri Räsänen, Director (Innovation and foresight), Regional Council of Pirkanmaa, 27.9.2013, Tampere

Veli-Pekka Päivänen, Development Manager, Regional Council of Keski-Suomi 16.9.2013, Tampere

Member of other regional councils were also contacted. 

Interviews were conducted by the RIM Plus regional correspondent Henri Lahtien, Ramboll Management in September 2013. 

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Note: Regional governance is carried out by Regional governments in Finland (statistically NUTS3-regions). Länsi-Suomi covers five such regions.  These notes mainly cover the situation in the Pirkanmaa region (the most populous NUTS-3 region) although other regions are covered in a more general level as well.

 


[1] digital business

[2] health applications from biotechnology