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Consensus building in regional innovation policy

Consensus building is an interactive conflict resolution process with involvement of numerous parties to solve complex situations and to come up with mutual agreements – in the framework of regional innovation policy consensus building is applicable for different purposes like building the regional vision, developing the regional innovation strategy as well as for conceptualisation and implementation of policy instruments.

Written by Hans-Christian Jäger

Reviewed by David Walburn


The concept

How to implement it?

Step in the RIS process

What can be expected?

A quote


Practitioner's comment

Experts' comments


The concept

In opposite to the top-down-approach which is usually neglecting the opinions of the regional stakeholders the consensus building approach allows various stakeholders to jointly find mutually acceptable solutions for the regional innovation policy in the light of their respective interests and capabilities. Due to the complexity and diversity of these interests and capabilities – but also due to limited financial and human resources in regional innovation policy – a common mutual understanding with agreement on the most important topics from the regional point of view is necessary.

The “high art of consensus building in regional innovation policy” is to agree on a regional innovation policy with clear priorities for key enabling technologies and for distinctive powerful innovation instruments. It has to be ensured that resources are not spread too thinly and too widely just to give every stakeholder something with minor or even no impact on the regional innovation capacity. Resolving the conflicts of interests of individual stakeholders and fostering the unique selling proposition of the region by shaping the regional technology and innovation profile with critical mass is a challenge which nowadays has still to be mastered in many European regions.

As regional innovation policy is always in movement due to political changes, new insights into the effectiveness of single instruments or due to changes in economy and technology, the respective consensus building in regional innovation policy has to be a continuous and long-term process in order to ensure the “just-in-time” improvement of the regional innovation policy and its adaptation according to changing framework conditions.


How to implement it?

Every process like the consensus building in regional innovation policy requires clear leadership and a process moderator. Both tasks must not necessarily be carried out be the same organisation. The leadership is ideally taken over by the public authority being responsible for the regional innovation policy and having sufficient influence on the required financial resources while the process moderator can have a neutral role in the regional innovation system in order to facilitate the consensus building.

Experiences of former RITTS and RIS projects (see also [1] and [2]) point out the importance of a Steering Committee (SC) for the consensus building process and identification of core issues. This SC is composed by the most relevant stakeholders. Its size needs to be manageable with a recommended number of approx. 15 to 25 members. The question whether individual companies should be members of the SC is discussed very controversially among experts and practitioners and handled in different way in the regions. On the other side there is no doubt about the fact that mutual confidence and trust among the SC members and further regional stakeholders is smoothening the decision making procedures substantially. Confidence and trust can be achieved by establishing personal relationships with intensive communication among the stakeholders and involving them in surveys and studies. When starting a consensus building process on regional innovation policy it often turns out that the relevant stakeholders even don’t know each other. Improving the interchange among regional stakeholders is at the same time increasing the transparency of the regional innovation system and the candor of stakeholders’ contributions and provided information, e.g. when it comes to the decision on the key enabling technologies for the region or allocation the responsibilities to singles implementation measures of the regional innovation policy.

Another important success factor for the consensus building process is the objectivity of available information about regional companies’ needs in innovation, their satisfaction with offered innovation services and its impact on the companies. Therefore the direct participation of regional companies in large scale surveys is required – the larger the sample the better. This information gathered directly from the customers of the regional innovation policy helps to avoid unnecessary interpretation of what could be the companies’ needs and their perception of the innovation services.

Beside the Steering Committee, large scale surveys and studies with direct involvement of the stakeholders working groups on specific topics are also a helpful instrument in the consensus and decision making process.


Step in the RIS process

Consensus building is required for all RIS3 steps:

Step 1: Analysis of the regional context and potential for innovation (Competitive advantages and support environment

Step 2: Set up of sound and inclusive governance structure with regards to the policy development process (towards Collaborative leadership)

Step 3: Production of a shared vision about the future of the region (Mobilizing stakeholders)

Step 4: Selection of a limited number of priorities for regional development (Smart Choices and Critical mass)

Step 5: Definition of coherent policy-mix roadmaps and action plans

Step 6: Integration of monitoring and evaluation mechanisms (Smart Specialisation as continuous process)


What can be expected?

  • Improved collaboration and innovation culture in the region regarding innovation policy
  • Increased acceptance of regional innovation policy and increased contribution by regional stakeholders
  • Higher quality and reliability of gathered data and information
  • Joint forces and effort for more effective and efficient regional innovation policy
  • Smart regional innovation strategy with focus on regional capabilities and potentials


A quote

“The RIS3 process for Regional Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation needs to be interactive, regionally-driven and consensus-based. This is because, far from the stereotype of heroic individuals in labs and garages, the innovation process is increasingly a collective social endeavour in which success, for regions as well as firms, depends on the inter-organisational capacity to absorb, generate and exchange knowledge in a timely and cost-effective manner.” [1]



[1] European Union DG Regional Policy. Guide to Research and Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation (RIS 3). March 2012. http://s3platform.jrc.ec.europa.eu/de/s3pguide

[2] David R Charles, Claire Nauwelaers, Benedicte Mouton, David Bradley. Assessment of the regional innovation and technology transfer strategies and infrastructures (RITTS). August 2000. ftp://ftp.cordis.europa.eu/pub/innovation-policy/studies/studies_regional_technology_transfer_strategies.pdf

[3] SCINNOPOLI Partners, edited by Government of Lower Austria, IWT Flanders and IDEUM. SCINNOPOLI – Scanning innovation policy impact: Policy Recommendations. November 2011. http://www.scinnopoli.eu/downloads/Policy_recommendation_print_version.pdf


Practitioner’s comment (by Irma Priedl)

With development of the Regional Innovation Strategy Lower Austria the regional government has established a Continuous Improvement Process for the Regional Innovation System RIS NÖ (CIP RIS NÖ). CIP RIS NÖ is characterised by a continuous learning and consensus building process among the regional government and all regional stakeholders which is leading to a better understanding of the customers’ = firms’ needs and innovation activities. This knowledge facilitates the decision making process and further improvement of Lower Austria’s Innovation Strategy for Smart Specialisation. Thereby the mutual trust between Lower Austria’s companies, the technology and service providers, the regional government and further regional stakeholders is considered as indispensible asset. The better the information flow the better the consensus building.


Mr Hans-Christian Jäger

Since almost 20 years Hans-Christian Jäger is working as IDEUM for public authorities and intermediate organisations in the field of regional innovation systems and entrepreneurship as well as management of related interregional projects including transfer and improvement of policy instruments. Hans-Christian has particular interest in monitoring and impact measurement of regional innovation policies and its related instruments which is strongly interlinked with Regional Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation.

In addition and in cooperation with other business consultancy companies like conmotion Hans-Christian is consulting the private sector in the field of lean management, process re-engineering and KAIZEN since almost 25 years.

These complementary activities allow an integrated consulting approach bearing in mind both private sector and public sector as beneficiaries.



Experts' comments

Understanding the organisational dynamics within a region is vital to getting the implementation of economic development programmes right. This is particularly true in times of austerity. This means that having effective programmes depends on levering in the resources and capabilities of stakeholders from various sectors, rather than depending on the receipt of large amounts of finance from government.

The tension between the top down versus the bottom up approach to policy making and implementation in economic development is sometimes not fully understood. Short-hand thinking often characterises the issue as “top down bad, bottom up good”, but this is too simplistic. “Top down” is frequently used pejoratively to suggest that programmes are imposed by higher authority with little regard for local needs or the views of local stakeholders. However, not all programmes coming from this source necessarily carry with them these short-comings. If reliance was placed wholly on “bottom up” initiatives, outcomes might be very patchy indeed.

The key to resolving this tension is identified in the main paper in the section on implementation. It is the role of leadership. With good, well-informed leadership, top down policies can work well. It is hard to envisage bottom up initiatives happening at all without leadership to give them shape and purpose. The main paper suggests that leadership to facilitate consensus-building should come from the public authority, but what might this mean in practice?

The first point to make is that leadership is usually provided by people rather than organisations. If we are thinking about public policy, it is often politicians who provide this leadership. This brings with it benefits of high profile commitment, but also the downside of the need for positive results to fit in with the electoral cycle. High level public officials can also provide leadership. They may be able to reach out to similar level senior managers in other organisations in the public, private and voluntary sectors. Public officials will usually require political backing to pursue such a role, however.

Whilst it is people who make leaders, the organisations they come from can contribute greatly to the effectiveness of their leadership. Organisations can confer status and power to leadership. It is not clear what “public authority” means in the main paper, but there is a strong case to be made for this being the municipality/local authority or an organisation such as a development agency which is able to act with the full backing of the authority. The influence and leverage that local authorities can bring to bear over other organisations in economic development policy is considerable because:

  • They may be the biggest local employer
  • They are likely to be major purchasers of goods and services from firms in the region
  • They often have regulatory powers which can closely affect the performance of companies and other organisations in the region
  • They have a dimension of legitimacy through the workings of local democracy which other organisations lack.

An effective leader bringing all these powers into play can mobilize other stakeholders to achieve consensus around regional economic development initiatives, including innovation policy.


Mr David Walburn

After a career in business David Walburn joined Greater London Enterprise in 1986 where he was responsible for venture capital and other small business support, before becoming Chief Executive of the organisation. He was the Chair of the London Business Angels Network and played a key role in the setting up of the European Business Angels Network. He has worked with the UK government and the European Commission on developing public policy initiatives to improve the financing of small and medium-sized enterprises. He was the Chair of Capital Enterprise, the umbrella body for organisations supporting micro business development in London, until 2012.

For the last ten years he has been a Visiting Professor at London South Bank University where he headed the Local Economy Policy Unit and was the managing editor of the journal Local Economy.

He has served as President of EURADA, and been a member of a number of advisory bodies of the European Commission.  He has been an active member of the International Economic Development Council in Washington DC and has a wide range of international contacts with economic development organisations.

He continues to write and lecture on small business finance and regional economic development.



Author's reply to the expert's comments

The author is astonished about the experts’ comments as these are not properly reflecting the article as well as mixing up regional and local level. It seems that the expert has not fully understood the article and the topic of regional consensus building. For the author the expert’s comments are confusing instead of creating additional value for the reader.

In contrast to the expert the author differentiates very well between TOP Down approach and clear leadership. Even though if the leader is well-informed (about innovation activities and needs of regional companies, core technology/R&D competencies, ... ) it is not necessarily a TOP Down approach. On the other hand clear leadership is always indispensable in the consensus building process. There is no contradiction between leadership and bottom-up approach as the expert’s comments are suggesting.

The expert promotes municipality/local authorities or organisations such as a development agencies for leadership in regional consensus building. According to author’s experiences municipality/local authorities are not the appropriate leadership for regional innovation policy except local and regional level are identical. The article is dealing with “Consensus building in REGIONAL innovation policy” while the expert is focussing on “municipality/local authority”, “influence and leverage that local authorities”, “local needs or the views of local stakeholders”.

Policy is clearly distinguishing between regional and local authorities – as it is done in the article.

The current NUTS nomenclature of EUROSTAT is clearly distinguishing between regions at NUTS 1 / NUTS 2 level / NUTS 3 level and Local Administrative Units (LAU) – the comments are ignoring the differences.

The expert is commenting “With good, well-informed leadership, top down policies can work well”. This statement is not reflecting the state-of art of regional innovation policy in Europe and the author’s experiences. The European Practice shows that regional innovation policy dominated by national decisions in a TOP-DOWN approach are suffering from lack of regional identity and sufficient exploitation of regional innovation potentials. Even though you have strong leadership a sole TOP-DOWN approach is not giving priority to the opinions/competencies/potentials of the regional stakeholders.

The expert’s statement “The main paper suggests that leadership to facilitate consensus-building should come from the public authority, but what might this mean in practice?” is alleging that the article is not based on practical experiences. And the expert is wondering what “public authority means in the main paper”. In fact the expert David Walburn is member of the KNOW-HUB Wikipedia Committee and all KNOW-HUB articles have to pass this committee. Therefore it is very strange for the author to read such statements and allegations in the comments instead of having direct exchange with the author before publication of the article and the comments.