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Smart Specialisation at work: Assessing investment priorities

This paper provides a methodology to assess how national and regional authorities define their research and innovation investment priorities for smart specialisation. It then tests the methodology empirically, based on a significant sample of research and innovation strategies for smart specialisation from Italy and Poland.
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Abstract

This paper provides a methodology to assess how national and regional authorities define their research and innovation investment priorities for smart specialisation. It then tests the methodology empirically, based on a significant sample of research and innovation strategies for smart specialisation from Italy and Poland.

The paper helps to fill a gap in the emerging literature on smart specialisation regarding the definition of investment priority areas, while providing useful analytical elements to orient policy impact evaluation exercises.

We found that research and innovation priorities in Italy and Poland are defined in line with a multi-level, tree-like structure whose higher hierarchical level usually contains a few broad dimensions, and whose branches cover several specific activities. When considered individually, most of those activities represent suitable smart specialisation priorities. Yet, some of the examined strategies contain priorities that do not fully reflect the smart specialisation logic. Several strategies encompass tens or even hundreds of activities.

It is beyond the scope of the present study to evaluate the appropriateness of a certain set of investment priorities in relation to the characteristics of a region or country. However, our analysis raises an important question about the capacity of the strategy management bodies to effectively support the development of huge sets of activities each of which potentially requires specific competences and dedicated administrative and technical resources. Also, large sets of priorities may de facto circumvent the smart specialisation principle of selective intervention, as the strategies ultimately cover broad economic areas.