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By David Charles, Professor of Regional Economic Development and Policy, European Policies Research Centre, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow
Following Professor Charles’ presentation, two colleagues with extensive experience with regional innovation systems in Europe, specifically in Värmland in Sweden, will commence the discussion. Mats Williams has spent more than a decade developing and supporting clusters in Värmland, while Professor Steve Garlick has worked closely with regional authorities and universities in Sweden on behalf of the OECD and Pascal projects on universities and regional engagement. They will reflect on the possible benefits of smart specialisation strategies in Värmland, and in other regions in Europe and Australia.
Regional innovation policies have been promoted by the EU for almost two decades. Over time, the concept of regional innovation strategies has evolved and become somewhat main-streamed in Europe’s regions. It is being further developed at present through ‘smart specialisation strategies for regional innovation’ in response to the Europe 2020 strategy.
Although the concept of smart specialisation is not necessarily different from regional innovation strategies, there is an enhanced focus on the diversification of the region on the basis of existing strengths as well as a more dynamic approach to cluster policy. This approach fits with current thinking on regional policy in being place-based, where regional strategies are distinctive and founded on exploiting local assets. A final dimension is the recognition of inter-regional connectedness.
This raises questions as to what is a smart specialisation strategy, and whether it makes sense for all regions to follow this model. Smart specialisation should not be seen as being about technology as such but about knowledge and its application. The presentation will examine the concept of smart specialisation and its applicability to a range of different forms of regional context, and will question the mechanisms by which innovation can be encouraged in regions lacking strong technology-based clusters. Implications for Australian regions will be drawn out in discussion.