isabelmoranvidal By / August 14, 2013

Smart specialisation

The smart specialisation concept comes from a strategic reflection carried out between 2006 and 2009 by a group of experts…

© Everythingpossible, Fotolia

The smart specialisation concept comes from a strategic reflection carried out between 2006 and 2009 by a group of experts at European level called “Knowledge for Growth”. They concluded that the productivity gap between Europe and the United States was derived from a lower economic and technology specialisation, as well as a lower capacity to prioritize efforts and resources at regional level.

Pencil and light bulb concept outside the box as creative and leadership concept
© Everythingpossible / Fotolia

As the OCDE states, Smart Specialisation is an strategic approach based on a more effective spending of public resources, concentrated on certain domains of knowledge or expertise. Those knowledge domains and innovation projects for entrepreneurship and growth are selected through a careful analysis of the existing capabilities, assets, competences, competitive advantages in a city, region or country. It also implies developing multi-stakeholder governance mechanisms and synergies between public support mechanisms. Through this approach, countries and regions can become and remain competitive in the global economy.

To implement the strategy Europe 2020 for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth Smart Specialisation strategies were introduced by the European Union (EU).  They were a way to increase efficiency in research and innovation investments by integrating policy and geographic areas, and stimulating collaboration among them. As Cohesion Policy 2014–2020 strongly focuses on research and innovation as a driving force for keeping the EU competitive, Smart Specialisation has been chosen as ex-ante conditionality. It will have a central function within the new programming period. The purpose is to improve the quality of Operational Programmes, ensuring a more effective use of EU funds and other public investments in the regions. This means that before they can receive EU financial support through the Structural Funds for their planned innovation measures, every Member State (MS) and region must have such a well developed strategy in place. They may select a limited number of priorities focusing on their own strengths and comparative advantages. The idea is not to imitate other MS or regions and to let entrepreneurs discover the right domains of future specialisations.

The European Commission launched the Smart Specialisation Platform (S3 Platform) in June 2011 to provide professional advice to EU MS and regions for the design of their Research and Innovation strategies for smart specialisation. It is hosted by the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies in Seville. By 21st May 2013, 127 EU regions, 7 EU countries, 2 non-EU regions and 1 non-EU country had already joined the Platform.


Smart Specialisation: the concept / Dominique Foray, Paul A. David and Bronwyn Hall. In: Knowledge for Growth: prospects for science, technology and innovation: selected papers from Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik’s Expert group. November 2009, p.20-24
This brief introduces the basic concept of “Smart Specialisation” which has been a leading idea of the Knowledge for Growth expert group.

What is Smart Specialisation? / Inger Midtkandal, Jens Sörvik. In: Nordregio News, Issue 5, December 2012.
Article on what is a smart specialisation strategy and how it differs from the strategies already in place.

Smart specialization: from academic idea to political instrument, the surprising career of a concept and the difficulties involved in its implementation / Dominique Foray, Paul A. David and Bronwyn H. Hall. École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, MTEI Working Paper 2011, n°1, 16 p.
This paper exposes and explains the minimal set of arguments and statements that have created the situation of smart specialisation having “political salience” which makes policy makers eager to “do it” in spite of a modest theoretical framework to guide its application or an adequate evidence base to help regulate its implementation.


Templates of smart specialisation: experiences of place-based regional development strategies in Germany and Austria / Elisabeth Baier, Henning Kroll and Andrea Zenker. Fraunhofer ISI Working Papers Firms and Region, n° R5/2013, 46 p.

This contribution illuminates the interface between the smart specialisation concept and regional systems of innovation approach, since innovation is going to be a key issue in the next structural funding period. It aims to demonstrate that the principles of smart specialisation have been implicitly applied in certain European regions for years in form of future-oriented transformation processes. Three different case study regions in Germany and Austria are analysed.

Smart specialisation in a truly integrated research area is the key to attracting more R&D to Europe / Dominique Foray and Bart Van Ark. In: Knowledge Economists Policy Brief n° 1, October 2007, 4 p.
There are concerns expressed at different levels in Europe about the increasing  numbers of European companies which are basing their R&D operations outside Europe, at the same time as the number of overseas companies carrying out their R&D in Europe is falling. The creation of truly European centres of excellence will be of more benefit in the long run than each individual country having low-level expertise in a full range of scientific areas.

Converting smart specialization into a regional strategy / Jaime del Castillo, Belén Barroeta, Jonatan Paton. In: INFYDE Working Paper, vol.2 n°1, 2011, pp.1-7.
Development of the concept smart specialization and overview of the key issues and the strategies to follow for its application at regional level.

Smart Specialisation, Regional Growth and Applications to EU Cohesion Policy / Philip McCann and Raquel Ortega-Argilés. Economic Geography Working Paper, Faculty of Spatial Sciences, University of Groningen, 2011, 26 p.
This paper aims to achieve two objectives. Firstly, it examines the smart specialisation concept and explains the challenges involved in applying this fundamentally sectoral concept to an explicitly spatial regional setting. Secondly, it explains the ways in which this might be achieved so as to make the concept suitable as a building block of a reformed EU Cohesion Policy.

Policies and processes of Smart Specialisation: realising new opportunities: Thematic Paper 2: Regional Innovation Monitor / Technopolis Group Belgium, 19 July 2011, 30 p.
The report puts a spotlight on strategic anchoring mechanisms and regional branching policies, with the view to contribute to the ongoing discussion on developing smart specialisation strategies.  It looks in detail into the existing policies in Madeira, Île de France, Navarra, Noord-Brabant and other 12 different EU regions. Recognising the fact that smart specialisation is not only about public support measures, the report includes three case studies.

Smart Specialization Strategies: A Territorial Strategy For Regions / Mikel Navarro Arancegui, Mari Jose Aranguren Querejeta, and Edurne Magro Montero. In: Cuadernos de Gestión, n° 12, 2012. pp. 27-49.
This paper aims to shed light on the contents a territorial strategy should include as well as on the main characteristics that present the development process of territorial strategies. Moreover, this paper analyses one concrete type of territorial strategy, which is currently being disseminated by the European Commission for regional development: the smart specialization strategy.

Smart specialization for cities. A roadmap for city intelligence and excellence / Jan Sturesson, Hazem Galal and Laurent Probst.  In: The World Financial Review, March-April 2012.
Cities are growing in both size and as key drivers of regional and national growth. What will define one city from another, however, is whether it is managing its potential growth effectively and sustainably. This should be coupled with strategic positioning, the latter which can be achieved through smart specialisation. This article explores this concept and its implications on city management.

Measuring economic impact of Cultural and Creative Industries policies / KEA European Affairs, April 2012, 78 p.
The EU is calling on European regions to make better use of EU funds for the Cultural and Creative Industries (CCIs). Regions have been invited to develop ‘smart specialisation strategies’ (RIS3) which should embrace a broad concept of innovation including not only investment in research or the manufacturing sector, but also in design and creative industries. CCIs are often overlooked in official statistics and this is one of the key challenges in trying to measure the economic contribution of this sector. In this report a set of indicators, to measure policies focusing on local economic development through CCIs is presented.

Regions for economic change 2012: Transforming regional economies: ‘The Power of Research and Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation’, Brussels, 15 June 2012 / European Commission, DG Regional Policy, 10 p.
The 2012 Regions for Economic Change conference discussed the challenges, benefits and possible limitations of implementing the smart specialisation conditionality through EU Structural Funds and how to best tailor smart specialisation to different national/regional frameworks and contexts.

“Smart Specialisation” and cohesion policy: a strategy for all regions? / David Charles, Frederike Gross and John Bachtler.  European policies Research Center, IQ-Net thematic Paper n°30(2), July 2012, 63 p.
The smart specialisation approach offers opportunities for all regions by challenging assumptions that regional innovation should be somehow connected with high technology and research and development.

Draft synthesis report on innovation driven-growth in regions: the role of smart specialisation / OECD, December 2012, 46 p.
This report is based on a review of the literature on smart specialisation and its underlying concepts; the identification and development of indicators and metrics for smart specialisation strategies; an enquiry of governance and priority setting processes; and 15 case studies of country and regional experience in designing and implementing smart specialisation strategies. It was presented to the European Commission at the High Level meeting in Brussels on the 5/12/2012.

Developing and implementing a smart specialisation strategy at regional level: some open questions / Donato Iacobucci. c.MET Working paper n°15, December 2012, 13 p.
The aim of this paper is to discuss the theoretical underpinning of the S3, focusing the analysis on three concepts: embeddedness, relatedness and connectivity. The analysis is carried out by reviewing the available documents about the definition and implementation of the smart specialisation strategy and the early proposals developed by some European regions.

Best Practices in Universities’ Regional Engagement. Towards Smart Specialisation / Cristina Serbănică. In: European Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, n°2, vol.4, 2012, pp.45-55.
With a view to the future, universities are expected to bring their contribution to regional smart specialisation and act as intermediary bodies for the implementation of several delivery instruments, thus drawing from the best practice cases presented within this paper.

Stakeholder views

EU Institutions’ views

Working document on smart specialisation: networking centres of excellence for an effective cohesion policy  / European Parliament, REGI_DT(2013)514671 PE 514.671v01-00, 20 June 2013

Connecting Universities to Regional Growth: a practical guide / European Commission, DG Regional Policy, September 2011, 69 p.
The European Commission has published a guide designed to help Managing Authorities responsible for programmes under the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) to improve the involvement of Universities in regional development. The guide aims to promote the active engagement of universities and other higher education institutions in regional innovation strategies for smart specialisation, in cooperation with research centres, businesses and other partners in the civil society. It will be useful for the last years of the current ERDF programming period (2007-2013) and for preparing the next period (2014-2020).

Regional policy for Smart Growth in Europe 2020 / European Commission. Directorate General for Regional Policy, 2011, 32p.
This publication sets out the key innovation tools relevant for regions. It also presents the Commission’s proposed smart specialisation strategy for regions intended to help policy-makers and stakeholders in their efforts to enhance regional innovation potentials, invest in smart growth, leverage private R&I investments and ensure more effective and complementary use of EU, national and regional funds. It is largely based on the European Commission Communication “Regional Policy contributing to smart growth in Europe 2020”.

Research and Innovation strategies for Smart Specialisation: (factsheets Cohesion Policy 2014-2020) / European Commission, 2012, 7 p.
Factsheet highlighting the key element of smart Specialisation on the future approach of Cohesion Policy 2014-2020

Guide to research and innovation strategies for smart specialisations (RIS 3) / European Commission, DG Regional Policy, March 2012, 117 p.
This guide intends to highlight new features and aspects that improve the previous knowledge and make innovation strategies and policies more effective. Part I of the guide defines the policy context of smart specialisation. Part II presents the concept, its rationale and economic fundamentals. In particular, it addresses the issue of the entrepreneurial process of discovery, which is a key feature of smart specialisation, and provides guidance on how to develop distinctive and original areas of specialisation.

Guide to research and innovation strategies for smart specialisation (RIS 3) / Dominique Foray, John Goddard, Xabier Goenaga Beldarrain, Mikel Landabaso [et al.] ; EU, European Commission, May 2012, 114 p.
This guide has been conceived as a methodological guidance for policy-makers and implementing bodies on how to prepare for and how to design, draft and implement a national/regional research and innovation strategy for smart specialisation (RIS3). The guide is to be understood as a general orientation document which will evolve as the concept develops.

Connecting Smart and Sustainable Growth through Smart Specialisation: a practical guide for ERDF Managing Authorities / European Commission,  DG Regional Policy,  November 2012, 106 p.
This guide is one in a series of guides prepared in the framework of the Smart Specialisation Platform set up by the European Commission. It is not an academic publication but a practical document with concrete recommendations and examples of good practice that show potential ways forward and to facilitate discussion between public authorities and stakeholders.

Smart specialisation: the driver of future economic growth in Europe’s regions / DG Regional Policy, Panorama Inforegion, n° 44, Winter 2012, pp. 8-13
Six page feature on Smart Specialisation strategies as drivers of regional economic growth, which analyses the definitions and possibilities for smart specialisation and the support provided by the S3 Platform.

International organisations’ views

Virtual community on Smart specialisation / OECD.
This is a web discussion and sharing space aimed at guiding participating countries and regions.  Documents and presentations of OECD events on Smart specialisation are also available.

Associations’ views

EU-Drivers: Universities’ involvement in regional smart specialisation strategy / Christian Saublens, EURADA, 2011, 36 p.
The concept of smart specialisation strategies is linked to sector policies that need to be rooted in a regional context. Universities will have a key role to play in this context in translating newly-developed or recently-captured knowledge for the benefit of regional stakeholders.

Directory of “No-Nonsense” Activities To Build S³-minded Regions: Scoping  Document for Agorada 2011+, Bielsko‐Biała (PL), 17/18 November 2011 / EURADA, 61 p.
This document provides food for thought on the impact of smart specialisation strategies for the main key governance stakeholders of all innovation ecosystems, i.e.:  regional decision makers, universities, businesses…

ERRIN and Smart Specialisation: an introductory guide / ERRIN, 2011, 18 p.
This guide updates ERRIN members on the topic of smart specialisation. The guide concludes with the ERRIN response to the first meeting of the Smart Specialisation Platform Mirror Group.

National views

Smart specialization concept and the status of its implementation in Romania / Steliana Sandu. In: Procedia Economics and finance, vol.3, 2012, pp.236-242.
This paper aims to survey the literature of the field in order to relieve theoretical and methodological elements addressing their application in Romanian context, with an assessment of implementation opportunities and of necessary instruments, according to Innovation Union objectives.

Paradigm change in regional policy: towards smart specialisation? Lessons from Flanders (Belgium) / Ties Vanthillo, Ann Verhetsel. In: Belgeo, Revue Belge de Géographie, n°1-2, 2012.
This paper challenges three main questions related to recent changes in regional policy. Firstly, what are the fundamental characteristics of the “old” regional policies ? Secondly, did the “old” paradigm evolve into a new paradigm of regional policy ? And if yes, how did these changes materialized and what characteristics where affected ? Lastly, we consider how these changes were integrated in Flemish regional policies.

Implementing the concept of Smart Specialisation in the Nordic countries: an exploratory desk study / Maria Lindqvist et al. Nordregio, Working paper n°1, 2013, 46p.
This paper explores the impact and early implementation of the new concept “Smart specialisation” in regional policy in the Nordic Countries. Even if the concept as such is new, many of the elements of strategies for “Smart specialisation” have already been implemented in the Nordic countries. This indicates that there is a strong potential for Nordic regions, building on existing strategies and policy delivery instruments. Still, there are some aspects which may further strengthen regional development processes in the future.

Getting smart to make the most of EU structural funds (blogpost) / David Marlow, In: Regeneration+Renewal. Blog Economic Development, 12 March 2013
Challenges faced by the UK on the implementation of Smart specialisation.

Political parties’ views

Smart Specialisation, Connecting European Top Performers / Lambert van Nistelrooij,  February 2013, 19 p.
This brochure explains the key role of Smart Specialisation for a strong Europe in R&D and innovation. It also includes stakeholders’ views and through which forums this issue is being discussed on the European Parliament.


Innovation Union Scoreboard 2011: Research and Innovation Union scoreboard/ Maastricht Economic and social Research and training centre on Innovation and Technology (UNU-MERIT) and European Commission DG Enterprise and Industry, 2012, 101 p.
This is the second edition of the Innovation Union Scoreboard (IUS). Based on the previous European Innovation Scoreboard (EIS), the tool is meant to help monitor the implementation of the Europe 2020 Innovation Union flagship by providing a comparative assessment of the innovation performance of the EU27 Member States and the relative strengths and weaknesses of their research and innovation systems.

Regional Innovation Monitor 2012: Credible action key to region’s future innovation performance / Technopolis Group, January 2013, 82 p.
Building upon the findings of the first two Regional Innovation Monitor (RIM) Annual Reports, this report presents an updated analysis of innovation policies across EU regions, incorporates the results of the recently published Regional Innovation Scoreboard – 2012, and provides an account of benefits which have arisen from improved regional innovation practices. One of the emerging findings is that there is a pattern in forms of support which seems to indicate that many world-class performing regions have indeed implemented a policy mix that is comparatively well-adapted to their innovation performance and well-suited to improve their economic situation in the long run.

Regional Innovation Scoreboard 2012 / Hugo Hollanders et al., European Commission DG Enterprise and Industry (coord.). 2012, 76 p.
The Regional Innovation Scoreboard 2012 provides a comparative assessment of how European regions perform with regard to innovation. The report covers 190 regions across the European Union, Croatia, Norway and Switzerland.

Innovation Union Scoreboard 2013 / Hugo Hollanders et al., European Commission DG Enterprise and Industry (coord.). 2013, 80 p.
The annual Innovation Union Scoreboard provides a comparative assessment of the research and innovation performance of the EU27 Member States and the relative strengths and weaknesses of their research and innovation systems. While the most innovative countries have further improved their performance, others have shown a lack of progress. The overall ranking within the EU remains relatively stable, with Sweden at the top, followed by Germany, Denmark and Finland. Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia are the countries that have most improved since last year.  Drivers of innovation growth in the EU include SMEs and the commercialisation of innovations, together with excellent research systems. However the fall in business and venture capital investment over the years 2008-2012 has negatively influenced innovation performance. It helps Member States assess areas in which they need to concentrate their efforts in order to boost their innovation performance.

Related legislative procedure(s)

Europe 2020 Flagship Initiative Innovation Union, COM(2010)546, 06.10.2010, 43 p.
This Communication addresses the challenges and opportunities facing Europe in key areas where urgent and sustained efforts are required. It sets out clearly the key European, national and regional initiatives needed to create the Innovation Union.

Regional Policy Contributing to Smart Growth in Europe, COM(2010)553, 06.10.2010, 15 p.
This Communication sets out the role of Regional Policy in implementing the Europe 2020 strategy, in the area of smart growth and in particular the flagship initiative, “Innovation Union”. Regional Policy can unlock the growth potential of the EU by promoting innovation in all regions, while ensuring complementarity between EU, national and regional support for innovation, R&D, entrepreneurship and ICT.

Regional policy and smart growth, European Economic and Social Committee, ECO/287, 14 Jul 2011, 10 p.
The EESC therefore welcomes the fact that the Commission is highlighting a number of problems and bringing regional policy into play with its Europe 2020 programme Innovation Union and its communication on smart growth. Although to a large extent it is decentralised measures that encourage renewal, these cannot be achieved without funding: support and policies must be the same everywhere. Regional policy is essential to achieve intelligent growth and indeed to encourage and assist national and regional governments to build strategies for smart specialisation that help regions to identify their best assets.

Report on the Green Paper: From challenges to opportunities: towards a common strategic framework for EU research and innovation funding, Rapporteur Marisa Matias, Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, (2011/2107(INI)), 07.09.2011, 50 p.
The Commission has taken the initiative of publishing a Green Paper that seeks to lay down a common strategic framework for research and innovation funding after 2013, combining the European programmes, namely the Research Framework Programme (FP), the European Institute of Technology (EIT), and the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP), with the structural/cohesion funding allocated for research and innovation.

Amended proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down common provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the Cohesion Fund, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund covered by the Common Strategic Framework and laying down general provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund and the Cohesion Fund and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 1083/2006, COM(2013) 246 final, 22.04.2013, 188 p.
On the Annex V, the ex-ante conditionalities are detailed.

Updated September 2013

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