Implementation of Smart Specialisation Strategies in Portugal: An assessment

Publication article | | Manuel Laranja, John Edwards, Hugo Pinto, Dominique Foray

This report assess the implementation of Smart Specialisation in Portugal between 2014 and 2020.


This report assesses the implementation of Smart Specialisation in Portugal, comparing the situation today with 2013.

In that year a multi-level framework was designed that included a national and seven regional Smart Specialisation Strategies (S3). The role of regions in research and innovation policy was much less advanced in Portugal than other (Western) European countries, but a logical step to implement a concept that gives local actors a prominent role in strategy development through a process of entrepreneurial discovery.

Smart Specialisation is a difficult concept to implement successfully because it crosses policy responsibilities and geographical levels.

This report finds that a number of problems in the governance of S3 implementation accentuated these difficulties in Portugal:

  • a governance structure that was never really activated;
  • a policy mix constrained by the legal framework governing R&I spending by the European Structural and Investment Funds, preventing a flexible place based approach that responds to local entrepreneurial discovery; a basic form of monitoring that only analyses project alignment to priorities rather than the achievement of strategic objectives;
  • a fragmented national strategic framework for R&I policy;
  • and a lack of human resources to implement what is a challenging policy approach.

The Portuguese regions did however learn from this first phase of Smart Specialisation and there have been some interesting and innovative attempts to instigate entrepreneurial discovery processes, work with other European regions and build capacity for managing innovation strategies. The report recommends that S3 in Portugal is fundamentally reset to embrace a more enterprise led model of innovation. This requires a much stronger governance framework including an active inter-ministerial committee led by the Ministry of Economy and a larger mandate for the National Innovation Agency. At regional level the S3 management teams need to be substantially reinforced and act more like development agencies than regional authorities, taking a pro-active approach to working with firms and monitoring the progress of their strategies. The National Innovation Agency should support the regional management teams in these tasks by enhancing their capabilities and facilitating inter-regional cooperation.

The conclusion of this report is that these type of fundamental changes are important to set Portugal on the right track to fully benefit from Smart Specialisation post-2020.

S3 Implementation in Portugal An assessment.pdf
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