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Knowledge transfer in RIS 3

Knowledge transfer is a term used in economics. It refers to the "dissemination of technical or technological knowledge from creation towards the use in the production process. Knowledge transfer means the institutionally-planned, time-limited, private or state-supported process of diffusion or spread of technology to economic utilization by third parties.

Written by Dr. Daniel Kipp, MCON
Reviewed and commented by David Walburn


The concept

How to implement it?

Case study: Weser-Ems

Step in the RIS process

What can be expected?

A quote


Experts' comments


The concept

Knowledge transfer is a term used in economics. It refers to the "dissemination of technical or technological knowledge from creation towards the use in the production process. Knowledge transfer means the institutionally-planned, time-limited, private or state-supported process of diffusion or spread of technology to economic utilization by third parties. A transmission takes place generally by a legal act (e.g. license agreement). Knowledge transfer can take place among universities, research institutions, inventors and companies within an international company, between companies or between industrialized and developing countries.”[1]

The underlying rational behind the Smart Specialisation Strategies (S³) concept is that by concentrating knowledge resources and linking them to a limited number of priorities economic activities, countries and regions can become - and remain - competitive in the global economy. This type of specialisation allows regions to take advantage of scale, scope and spillovers in knowledge production and use, which are important drivers of productivity.[2]

An efficient knowledge transfer is vital in order to ensure successful implementation of a RIS-3-strategy in a region and a proper operation of a regional innovation system.


How to implement it?

In a regional innovation system knowledge transfer is provided by a variety of intermediaries. The following figure shows examples of the different intermediaries in the German innovation system:


Figure: Knowledge Transfer System in Germany[3]

Depending on the type of intermediary organization, the transfer approach can also be different. Technology contact points at universities or research institutions usually follow a supply- and diffusion-based approach, according to which the existing "knowledge" of the institution is optimally disseminated. In contrast are more demand- and needs-based transfer approaches, which are mainly practiced by business-oriented intermediaries (chambers of commerce, economic development agencies, technology parks, incubators, universities, research centres, TTOs, etc.). These are usually specific issues of companies for which external knowledge is sought.

The development of knowledge transfer is a key field of action of an innovation-oriented regional development. Support for knowledge transfer is in many EU Member States and regions an important funding area of the EU structural funding 2014-2020. A well-functioning knowledge transfer depends on a number of success factors (matching of portfolios between research institutions and companies, commercial orientation of research institutions, absorption capacity of firms, trust, proximity…). However, several studies show that knowledge transfer is often not yet working well. For this reason, S ³ processes also increasingly deal with knowledge transfer.


Case study: Weser-Ems

As part of the S ³ process in Weser-Ems, the aim is to develop the knowledge transfer system of the region. Therefore, the approach of “knowledge networking” was chosen. The implementation of knowledge networking in Weser-Ems takes place through the so-called “Strategy Councils”. These are think tank groups of regional experts from important sectors in the local economy of the Weser-Ems region. [4]


Step in the RIS process

Step 5 (Definition of coherent policy mix, roadmaps and action plan) will be most important to promote knowledge transfer instruments.


What can be expected?

For the success of a RIS-3 process an efficient knowledge transfer is of central importance. S³ approaches have to remain inherently dynamic. Otherwise there is a serious danger that the S³ approach could be misunderstood as a one-time exercise aimed at mechanistically developing priority lists and fixed monitoring systems – which until the end of the support period relieves policy makers from reconsidering their objectives, as Baier / Kroll / Zenker mention in their study about place-based regional development strategies in Germany and Austria.[5] In this context sustaining the process and filling it with life is a much more ambitious quest than merely forcing regions to submit strategies of a defined nature. A strategy document will not ensure a viable and lasting change in policy.[6]


A quote

“The ultimate aim is to foster and develop all over Europe the kind of world-class excellence in science and innovation that today is confined to only a few EU regions. That is a necessity if we are to transform Europe into an Innovation Union and create jobs where they are most needed.” - Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science[7]




Mr Daniel Kipp


Dr. Daniel Kipp studied economic geography at the University of Osnabruck and wrote his PhD concerning regional innovation support strategies for small and medium-sized enterprises.

For more than ten years he is working as a consultant for MCON Dieter Meyer Consulting GmbH in Oldenburg / Germany. His activities thematically mainly focus on the consulting of public institutions concerning the implementation of economic development processes, improvement of policy instruments and funding opportunities. Furthermore, another thematic area of Daniel Kipp’s work is the support of SMEs in innovation processes.

His research interests lie in particular in the effectiveness of regional innovation systems and in the design of new financial instruments.



Expert's comments

The article gives an excellent summary of the importance of knowledge transfer in boosting regional economies, and the role of public policy interventions to assist the process along where markets are not achieving the best outcomes.

It is perhaps helpful to set the role of public policy in this area in the context of the commercial market place. Knowledge transfer has been a feature of public policy in economic development for several decades, so much so that there may be a tendency for practitioners and policy makers to underestimate the part that market forces play. The description in the main paper of transfers taking place “by legal act” such as a license agreement, sets the commercial context, but the reality in the modern global economy is that the trading of intellectual property is a hugely important process which takes place irrespective of economic development interventions. Indeed, there are major policy interventions such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) which seek to control and regulate knowledge transfer to protect the owners of intellectual property, as well as encouraging trade. Patenting regulations, which have a similar purpose, have existed since medieval times and in their modern form been in place for almost two hundred years. As the engineering advances of the industrial revolution took place in the UK during the nineteenth century, manufacturers employed rigorous measures to keep their innovations secret from their competitors abroad. On the face of it, the notion of public policy interventions to promote knowledge transfer might seem superfluous with such strong commercial dynamics at play.

This would be a mistake. The fundamental basis of economic development as an area of public policy is that commercial markets rarely produce wholly satisfactory outcomes. We speak of “market failure” and seek to devise policies of intervention to improve matters. For example, in knowledge transfer it is often the failure of effective communication which means that firms may not take advantage of information which could increase and improve their business performance.

The challenge for public policy is to devise interventions which are complementary to the workings of the market, and really add value. “Market failures” usually occur for very good commercial reasons and it is rarely easy for public policy to produce a different outcome. This difficulty is all too often lost in the rhetoric of economic development speak where the power of commercial markets is underestimated.

The article captures the need for complementarity in its discussion of the type on intermediary organisation which should be involved in knowledge transfer, and in particular the role of business-orientated intermediaries where firms are involved.

Looking at public policy on knowledge transfer in the context of the huge and powerful commercial market, it is perhaps wise to settle for policies which are modest in scope but which are effective, even though some may consider the outcomes marginal in comparison to the size of the whole economy of a region or country.

In addition, the article makes two very useful points.

The first is that the S3 programme should not be considered as a one-time exercise.  The use of language with “sustaining the project and filling it with life” is spot on. Far too many programmes of public policy in economic development are time-limited, based on budget cycles and an erroneous assumption that after a certain period market failures will somehow correct themselves. The reality is that most market failures are chronic and require long term programmes to address them.

The second is the message that “a strategy document will not ensure a viable and lasting change in policy”. Far too many economic development organisations give too high a priority to writing and adopting strategies, and not enough to devising and implementing effective programmes.


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.


[2] S3 Platform: Guide to Research and Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation (RIS 3), p.12. COM IP/11/796

[3] Koschatzky, Knut; Kroll, Henning; Schricke, Esther; Brandt, Tasso 2011

[5] Baier / Kroll / Zenker 2013, p. 34

[6] Kroll / Muller / Schnabl / Zenker 2014, p. 42