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First RIM Plus workshop highlights opportunities and challenges of innovation strategies (Brussels, 17 April 2013)

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Europe 2020 Regional Innovation Strategies and future funding opportunities (Brussels, 17 April 2013)

Spreading the word on smart specialisation and the value of regional innovation strategies, ERRIN teamed up with EU 2020 Regions Network and the new RIM Plus project to organise a workshop on April 17 entitled Europe 2020 Regional Innovation Strategies and future funding opportunities.

The event was the first of four to be organised in 2013 as part of Regional Innovation Monitor Plus (RIM Plus), an initiative funded by the European Union to help regions improve their innovation policies through better and harmonised policy intelligence.

Speakers stressed the need to narrow the innovation gap between regions, to focus on smart specialisations adapted to the needs of individual regions and to boost cooperation and information exchanges so regions can learn from the experience of others.

"The key winning regions are going to be regions that have a good smart specialisation strategy, a good regional innovation strategy which feeds into it and can then exploit the synergies between the two," ERRIN's director Richard Tuffs told the some 130 regional policy specialists who attended the event.

Representatives of the Brussels Capital Region, Bratislava and Poland's Wielkopolska region shared their experiences in preparing regional innovation strategies and in working together through the EU2020 Regional Network, which links 15 regions across Europe. The session was moderated by Lorenza Badiello from Italy's Emilia Romagna region.

"Without people that have the skills and aptitude, nothing will happen in the innovation strategy," said Elżbieta Książek, Deputy Director of Poznan Science and Technology Park, stressed the importance of education in Wielkopolska innovation strategy.

Katrien Mondt from Brussels and Bratislava's Marek Dvorsky underscored the opportunities offered by urban regions through their concentration of universities, researchers and financial institutions, but also the specific social and spatial challenges of big city regions.

Mondt, the Director General of Brussels' Institute for Research and Innovation (INNOVIRIS), explained how her region is aiming to develop smart specialisation that builds on its existing strengths in ICT, life sciences and the environment while encouraging private sector players to take a broader outlook.  "We want to improve our international participation," she said. "We have to show the enterprises how it can be useful for them."

Slovakia's capital region is also focusing on three main domains where the region is already a strong player: materials research, especially for the auto industry; ICT and biotechnology. "Experience has shown in biotech even a small country can be successful," said Bratislava's Dvorsky.

The three regional representatives received a critical cross examination from Katja Reppel, Deputy Head of Unit at the European Commission's Directorate General for Regional Policy, and from Petri Matti Juhani Räsänen, director of regional and innovation on the city council of Tampere, Finland.

Reppel underlined the need for regions to move quickly in developing their innovation strategies in order to qualify for EU funding. She urged greater cooperation among neighbouring regions; encouraged authorities to develop strategies that set their regions apart from potential rivals; and be brave enough to take entrepreneurial risks when experimenting with innovation policies. 

Faced with the severity of the economic crisis, Räsänen said regions had to move beyond planning and take decisive action. They also need to show private investors concrete examples of successful initiatives. "You can also start fighting a crisis with real action, you don't need hundreds of millions of euro for that," he said. "You can start with a few thousand euros."

The workshop's two keynote speakers took a broad look at the European innovation debate. Fabian Zuleeg, Chief Economist at the European Policy Centre, was generally positive about the aims of the EU's Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, but he expressed doubts about its implementation, funding and governance. Following him, Markku Markkula, a member of the EU's Committee of the Regions, outlined his draft paper on Closing the Innovation Divide which is due to be presented at the COR later in April.

The economic crisis has made the EU's commitment to promoting growth in the Europe 2020 strategy an even greater priority, Zuleeg said. He referred to the latest International Monetary Fund figures which have again highlighted Europe's competitive weaknesses.

Unfortunately, he cautioned that Europe's leaders "still haven't really got an idea of how this strategy is going to be implemented at regional level and the member state level." Despite improvements in European economic governance forced through since the start of the crisis, Zuleeg said it is obvious many of the 2020 targets will not be met.

"It is far from clear that we know how to translate policies into growth," he said. Innovation, he added has to be calibrated to get goods and services to markets, to produce income for the private sector and spur growth, he insisted, rather than being merely "innovation for innovation's sake."

To that end smart specialisation should be developed to fit local specifications in each region rather than being a "tick box exercise" to secure EU funding and seeking to force high technology industries on regions without the capacity for it, he concluded.

Markkula also pressed regions to develop innovation ecosystems to match their particular circumstances.

"We need pioneering regions to be forerunners in implementing the EU2020 and through that to invent the desired future," he said. "Every region can be a pioneer in its own specific field of activities."

The triple helix of public, private and academic players needs to be modernised to fit into the wider ecosystem, Markkula argued. He was one of several speakers who emphasised the value of demand led innovation, with customers playing a key role in driving policy.

"Showcases for practical examples of successful initiatives should be created and made widely accessible, so other regions and cities can learn from the practical results," he concluded.

The role of RIM Plus was outlined by Jacek Walendowski, Senior Consultant at the Technopolis Group. Innovation policies, he said, are often not as effective as they should be and RIM Plus seeks to assist them in creating the right environment for innovation to flourish.  Jacek Walendowski then introduced the RIM Plus online functionalities to help regions improve their innovation policies by making a better use of the know-how and experience of other regions. The RIM website has a search function to help regions identify relevant information, such as strategies, adopted practices, evaluations and can find contacts in regions.

The RIM project has developed some interesting analyses of links between the regional innovation policy support measures and innovation performance.  "Effective policies can make an important difference with a view to a regions' development," he said. "Responsive regional innovation policy should aim rather to play the role of a catalyst and not one of a creator."

To achieve its goals, RIM Plus in cooperation with the network of regional correspondents collects and analyses  innovation policies and strategies in regions across the EU. It also aims to establish the thematic networks of regional experts and practitioners to support sharing of intelligence on specific areas related to innovation policies.

"All inclusive policies even those promoting innovation are not sustainable in the long term," Walendowski said. "Increasingly, a focus is placed on demand-side policies, public and social innovation, design and advanced manufacturing."

RIM Plus will also play a vital role as a link between the European authorities and the regions, explained Alberto Licciardello, from the European Commission's DG Enterprise and Industry who introduced the conference.

He stressed the need for the use of public funds based on realistic assessments of regional characteristics and governance capabilities. Regions should use knowledge and information available in innovation scoreboards, smart specialisation peer reviews and the Regional Innovation Monitor more effectively to improve their innovation strategies especially as recent trends show a widening of the gap within Europe while Europe is catching up to global competitors. For example, one of the new features of the RIM Plus is will be visits to regions by the RIM Plus country correspondents.

"What we thought was missing in this portfolio there was need for a tool that would give us some hints some info on what is happening at the level of policy-making in the regions," he explained.

RIM Plus will provide a snap shop of the innovation situation in the regions and allow for the use of public funding based on realistic assessments of their characteristics and governance capabilities, Licciardello said.

"Even within member states it's very much diversified," he said. "There is need for a better tailored intervention, regions have different strengths and weaknesses."

By enabling regions and the Commission to take stock of the available opportunities, RIM Plus will assist the authorities to implement smart specialisation and help close the innovation divide, Licciardello concluded.

"This is part of the 2020 strategy," he said. "We need to know what is needed by the regions, so we can help."

RIM Plus Workshop

RIM Web Portal

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