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Implementing Smart Specialisation in Sparsely Populated Areas


This Working Paper explores Research and Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation (RIS3) in Sparsely Populated Areas (SPA). The paper discusses the most significant elements of Smart Specialisation (S3) in SPA focusing on its theoretical background as well as on the empirical processes related to the introduction and implementation of the S3 concept in selected European regions. Presenting both issues emerging from theoretical debates and practice-based examples, this paper provides a critical discussion on the operationalisation of S3 in the specific context of European Sparsely Populated Areas.
SPA should not be seen as regions lagging behind by definition but as regions with specific characteristics including challenges and opportunities. The analysis of the case study regions demonstrates that SPA have been able to create innovative environments in sparsely populated and remote areas and that there is a mind-set and willingness to utilise the possibilities provided by S3 processes. However, in doing so SPA need to strengthen their competitiveness with extra-regional knowledge and networking pipelines and even more so than other types of regions in consideration of the lack of critical mass. The specific characteristics and features of SPA often with abundant natural resources, but with limited human capital and lack of agglomeration economies need to be carefully studied and the regional actors need not only to be heard but also to be invited to an inclusive S3 process. The cases discussed enlighten the need to address S3 as an overarching framework for territorial development based on the integration of complementary policies.