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Smart Specialisation from Concept to Practice: A Preliminary Assessment

This report presents some conceptual developments and original empirical results on how and to what extent the Smart Specialisation approach to regional innovation policy is currently being translated into strategic decisions and policy interventions in European Union regions and countries. This paper provides a summary of recent research conducted by the authors.
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Abstract

This study assesses how and to what extent the principles characterising the Smart Specialisation approach are actually translated in policy implementation, by examining three of its complementary aspects: the nature of the priority areas for policy intervention, the mechanisms for project selection, and the type of policy measures. The results shows that regions and countries tend to circumvent the selective approach of Smart Specialisation.

Priority areas broadly defined, loose alignment of policy instruments with priorities and the scarce customisation of policy measures to the specific innovation needs of the identified priorities are the tangible signs of this circumvention process. We advance the hypothesis that this could be the result of lobbying activities, higher political return from widespread support measures, risk-aversion, and lack of adequate institutional and administrative capacity. An additional explanation may lie in the incentive structure established at European Union level which did not fully support the intervention logic of Smart Specialisation. To assess the effects of Smart Specialisation, we suggest focusing on interventions that (i) address priorities consistently defined, (ii) apply policy measures selectively to those priorities, (iii) design policy measures around the specificities of each priority.