Collaboration key to regional development

  • 2015-12-16
  • Dorian Ziedonis

BRUSSELS - A necessary component in formulating a city or regional development plan is the fostering of an “outward” orientation, expressed panelist Jens Sorvik during the workshop Interregional Cooperation on Smart Specialization Strategies as part of the OpenDays2015 week in Brussels. Delegates in the crowded conference hall were gathered to hear comments such as this, to relate experiences and share practices in an effort to learn smarter and better ways to utilize resources back at home.

Talks during the Oct. 13 event centered around the issue of how to make meaningful connections between Europe’s regions. Collaboration was the keyword, and answered the question posed by moderator Peter Heydebreck: “How can (we get) regions to work together to become unique and successful?”

Leveraging resources

The workshop investigated ways to develop strategies based on RIS3, or “smart specialization.” Such strategies require “using place-based resources to develop regions. Select a few areas to prioritize activities, then mobilize key actors,” announced Sorvik, a researcher on the topic. It’s an approach grounded in matching a locale’s resources, capabilities, and goals.
Europe’s regions have vastly differing characteristics, opportunities, and needs that require more than a one-size-fits-all policy. “What’s needed is a location-based approach providing regions the ability and means to deliver policies that meet their specific needs,” wrote Magda Anagnostou in October’s Parliament Magazine.
So far, “information-sharing is the area where there has been the most cross-regional collaboration, sharing experiences and learning, generally by those in similar industries,” says Sorvik. To be successful, he suggests, there “needs to be a clear reasoning or rationale for the collaboration.”

Guidance and support can be found at the EU institutional level. Advice offered ranges from how to initiate “territorial cooperation, to develop capacity building programs to improve implementation of Structural Fund programs,” notes panelist Magdalini Anagnostou.

The goal, she says, is to have an impact on the 340 billion euros in fund-spending, giving priority in the areas of R&D innovation, SME competence, a low-carbon economy, and the environment. The aim is for these efforts to work as a “multiplier of S3 activities through sharing solutions across the EU for better implementation.”
Some of the resources available include Interreg ( and policy learning platform Smart Specialization Platform S3 (

Getting started

Panelist Jason Martinez says that it’s important to first “identify your competitive advantage through systematic comparison with other regions.” Look at what the neighbors are doing, or what other regions around Europe are doing. It is essential to “look beyond regional borders,” he advises.
Sorvik concurs, saying that as “R&D networks are increasingly global, so it’s important to find niches, collaboration, to solve societal challenges.”

EU institutions, not only the private sector, need to address this as well in policy frameworks. Sorvik calls for “regional innovation policy to reach beyond regional borders.”
In collaborating with “the usual suspects (the same partners),” says audience member Nicola, “partners should be those that want to solve similar, or joint, problems. The more focused (partners are) on the problem or goal, the better.”
One example of success in teaming up with long-distance partners comes from panelist Elzbieta Ksiazek, who points to the KNOW-HUB project for its “practical experience in how regions can collaborate on RIS3 strategy.” Thirteen partners from nine countries work together.

One example of success in teaming up with long-distance partners comes from panelist Elzbieta Ksiazek, who points to the KNOW-HUB project for its “practical experience in how regions can collaborate on RIS3 strategy.” Thirteen partners from nine countries work together.
KNOW-HUB addresses a crucial problem of insufficient competence in European regions in strategic management of innovation policies. The objective is to improve the regional innovation policies and help regions to develop their competitive advantage, according to the Interreg4c website.

For Latvia, the Ministry of Education and Science in a March 2015 policy paper has outlined the RIS3 strategy, one designed to “transform the economy towards production of higher added value products and services.”
The fields identified as having “the greatest potential” include Biomedicine, with a focus on development of “molecular and individualized treatment and diagnostic methods and cell technologies,” and “medical cosmetics.”
Another targeted area is “information and communication technologies” with a focus on niches including “photonics, micro-nano electronics” and “large-scale data and knowledge infrastructure, and quantum computers.”
Most partners and resources mentioned in Latvia’s strategy, though, are domestic; it remains to be seen whether more “outward” collaboration will be needed to develop these technologies and fulfill the RIS3 agenda.

Challenges ahead

The first task in any endeavor is to define what will be the focus of the smart specialization in practice, then decide how to start, who will lead, contribute, and what’s the actual plan. This is the textbook method, but real-world conditions usually throw up obstacles. Audience members offered examples of hurdles faced:
“The entrepreneurial discovery process needs to be further developed and better understood. Related to this, implementation, with the correct instruments and program management, also needs improvement,” said one.
Another added: “Regarding interregional collaboration in specific activities, this in practice is a difficult task. It is essential to continuously conduct ‘peer reviews,’ with on-site evaluations better than classroom workshops.”

“Leadership throughout the process can come from various participants at various times, not just one individual or group, though regional authorities and private sector companies need to be on board,” suggested another.
Every town, city, and region around Europe has its own history, set of characteristics, resources, and development needs. But as much as each place is unique, it’s necessary to look at and collaborate with those outside the borders, to share and build upon best ideas and practices.
Heydebreck highlights that “knowledge may be available in another region, or could be passed on through collaboration. Policy learning platforms as well could be highly instrumental in sharing experiences.”

It’s necessary, he adds, “to take the holistic approach, to look at other ideas in the sharing space.”