Sofia RIS3 aims to transfer Sofia from a city with a high share of residents at risk of poverty through inclusive quality education, training and life-long learning, digital skills development and community support systems, that are developed in parallel with the ICT sector based innovation in the area of big data, advanced computing, AI and cybersecurity. Sofia RIS3 also aims to overcome the generational digital divide by radically improving the digital skills of the elderly and their access to and trust in digital services, primarily measured with DESI indicators. Sofia RIS3 has two priority areas – Innovation in ICT and Innovative technologies in the area of creative and cultural industries – in accordance with the city's innovative potential.
RIS3 focuses on fostering investments in areas that provide increased added value to the economy and its international competitiveness. However, a city strategy should address the societal challenges and ensure that social cohesion and community development are put at the core. These are therefore among Sofia RIS3 strategic objectives in order to avoid further gaps and divides between generations, citizens with different economic and educational status. If not addressed, these gaps might actually deepen with technological development and economic specialisation.
SofiaLab for Innovations was designed as a policy instrument for RIS3 implementation.
SofiaLab is a dedicated public space/facility to foster innovative skills development of students and seniors. It combines three main functions: (i) a physical space equipped with computer-controlled tools and appropriate for gatherings/co-working; (ii) support for potential entrepreneurs; and; (iii) bottom-up events demonstrating local innovation, entrepreneurship and knowledge transfer for all. SofiaLab was launched in September 2018 and so far over 10,000 individuals have undergone innovation-based transformative trainings, over 100 innovation and social cohesion events were hosted. SofiaLab has special programmes for municipal secondary schools, as well as trainings for teachers, jointly with universities and relevant businesses. SofiaLab became a member of the Living Labs network.
How Sofia RIS3 affects the inclusiveness of the society is also reflected into the monitoring and evaluation plan. One of the proposed tool - through the Urban Agenda Partnership "Digital Transition", co-chaired by Sofia - is the development of Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) - Regional, providing regular comparable and measurable information at the level of regions vs. EU Member states. Through its work in the Digital Transition Partnership, Sofia also proposed several pilot measures, one of which - Digital Neighbourhoods - is focused on overcoming the digital divide.
Important challenges remain both at the EU, national level and place-specific, such as the digital humanism movement, ethical standards for AI, new requirements to normative and regulative texts in the digital era, inclusion of the 85% of data currently not used for evidence-based policy making, etc. All these challenges affect both RIS3 priorities, policy instruments, monitoring and evaluation and the trajectory to SDGs. Important to progress is to continue seeking for EU level pilots/solutions wherever possible, while testing place-based solutions through participative evaluation and drafting processes.