Our methodology

The Smart Specialisation approach requires looking beyond the national/regional administrative boundaries. In other words, a country/region should be able to identify its competitive advantages through systematic comparisons with other countries/regions, mapping their national and the international context in search of examples to learn from, or to mark a difference with, and performing effective benchmarking. Moreover, each country/region should be able to identify relevant linkages and flows of goods, services and knowledge revealing possible patterns of integration with other regions.

The potential benefit of this integration is the main rationale of the Thematic Smart Specialisation Platforms, which aim to facilitate and reinforce transnational and interregional cooperation across the EU by promoting complementarity of regional funding for innovation and supporting the bottom-up collaboration between businesses and researchers along value chains across the EU.
The Thematic Smart Specialisation Platforms encourage regions and their innovation actors to build strategic Thematic S3 partnerships, in order to exploit complementary strengths, build synergies with other regional, national and EU networks and initiatives, and enhance the development of and investments in EU value chains. 

Thematic S3 partnerships are based on a bottom-up approach which means that they are initiated, developed, and led by the regions themselves, with an active involvement of all relevant Quadruple Helix partners, including business organisations, research institutions, academia, and the civil society. 

Partnerships are encouraged to follow a methodology in line with a specific work-flow that takes them through a number of steps. This work-flow follows an iterative and non-linear process which can be understood as a dynamic flow of activities that result in living documents and outcomes that require continuous monitoring and review. 

This approach is an adaptation of the 4-step approach defined by the Vanguard Initiative: Learn, Connect, Demonstrate and Commercialise. In addition to these phases, the model of the Thematic Smart Specialisation Platforms adds a step of Upscaling the results in terms of investments. 
The JRC has been mainly involved in the support to the partnerships for the first two steps of this methodology: ‘Learn’ and ‘Connect’. Detailed information on these two stages can be found in the Methodological Manual “Developing Thematic Interregional Partnerships for Smart Specialisation: A Practical Guide to Building and Managing Interregional Smart Specialisation Partnerships”.


1. Learn

LorThe first step ‘Learn´ includes the development of a shared vision and a defined partnership’s concept with clear objectives and priorities, supported by a solid governance that allows identifying strategic synergies. 
  • Elaboration of a concept note, validated among participant regions, including information such as: partnership’s scope, mission and objectives 
  • Definition of a governance structure (e.g. leaders, co-leaders, responsible of thematic lines, rules of functioning).
  • Initial mapping of S3 priorities and sub-priorities in lead and partner regions, existing cooperation projects, EU projects, initiatives, and strategic alliances.
  • Background analysis: review of regional needs, challenges, policy measures, relevant strategies and policies, and any existing know-how in the selected thematic area. Overview of partner regions’ position in an envisaged global value chain.
  • Proposed thematic working areas.
  • Drafting of a joint action plan.

2. Connect

Building on the ‘Learn’ phase, the second step ‘Connect’  focuses on mapping existing and/or missing capacities relevant to selected areas of common interest, and on matching business opportunities.
It includes a deep understanding of each region’s capabilities and competencies through the cross-regional analysis of relevant strategic documents, the evaluation of economic potential and the analysis of the development and research potential. This analysis allows mapping the regional positioning within the corresponding value chain, the materials used, and the specific domains of application. Moreover, it includes the mapping of regional ambitions and challenges.
This step is highly exploratory and analytical, aiming at discovering and validating a list of potential collaborative project ideas that are sufficiently developed to enter the demonstration phase.

3. Demonstrate

The ‘Demonstrate’ step relates to the development of pilot activities with robust monitoring and evaluation systems, the establishment of a strategy for dissemination of results, and definition of business plans with a high level of engagement of the private sector combined with public investment.

4. Commercialise

The successful projects will reach the ‘Commercialise’ step, which concerns the implementation by business actors of new innovative products or services and industrial investment projects in the selected innovative value chains. 

5. Scale-up

This last step ‘Scale-up’ relates to the deployment of successful projects at a larger scale and expansion to new international markets, contributing to European territorial development and competitiveness and increasing the strength of European Value Chains.