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Long-term thinking as precondition for Regional Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation RIS3

Policy in general has to solve the conflict between the required long-term thinking for RIS3 and the more short-term aim of politicians to be re-elected at next elections. Is there a way out of this dilemma?

Written by Hans-Christian Jäger


The concept

How to implement it?

Step in the RIS process

What can be expected?

Practitioner's quote


The concept

Modernisation and restructuring of the Regional Innovation System with increased competitiveness of the regional economy and added value for the region is the overall goal of regional innovation policy. In order to achieve these objectives a balanced policy mix has to be established with strategic high investments in a limited number of prioritised technology fields in combination with a broad project oriented support of the regional businesses without sectorial or technological limitations which would mean to exclude single companies from innovation support. While the latter support is also effective with short-term and mid-term measures, the establishment of required critical mass in these prioritised technology fields, the realisation of their potentials in R&D+Innovation excellence and the economic exploitation can only be achieved in the long run. Thus, long-term orientation of RIS3 is crucial in order to gain substantial and sustainable impact of innovation policy finally on the welfare and quality of life of citizens.

Long-term orientation is also necessary in the early stage of developing the regional innovation strategy. The elaborated shared vision about the future of the region (step 3 of the RIS3 process for Regional Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation RIS3) implies the long-term orientation of regional innovation policy as a vision usually has a time horizon of 5 to 10 years and more. The RIS3 vision is ideally synchronised with other political milestones, which have also influence on the RIS3 like the 7 years period of the Regional Policy Framework of the European Union.

As Regional Innovation Systems (RIS) are complex systems with manifold interweavement of single actors and mutual influencing usually the full impact of a single policy measure on the whole RIS is difficult to predict exactly and the actual impact becomes obvious only years after measure application. E.g. this is true even for more simple policy instruments like state aid schemes for R&D and innovation: the impact of a single funded project on the direct beneficiary is obvious already at the end or two year after project finalisation, but the full impact of the whole state aid scheme on the RIS can only be calculated after a representative number of funded projects are finished and their impact is monitored. In addition, other external factors have also substantial impact on the Regional Innovation System. To avoid any bias in policy evaluation it is important that this impact is separated from the actual impact of the regional innovation policy.


How to implement it?

Long-term thinking is strongly depending on stable governance structures and broad consensus among the relevant regional decision makers and stakeholders – and may be also among national decision makers and stakeholders depending on the influence of the national level on the regional innovation policy. Therefore step 2 of the RIS3 process with setting up a sound and inclusive governance structure with regards to the policy development process towards Collaborative leadership is crucial. IN such a stable regional political system it is much difficult for single persons – even politicians – to act against the broad consensus for a long-term innovation policy.

In addition the election orientation of politicians can to some extend be harmonised with the long-term orientation of RIS3 by defining milestones for the long-term RIS3 process according to election dates. For these milestones the interim impact of the RIS3 implementation is evaluated in order to demonstrate the success of the regional innovation policy in this parliamentary term. These interim evaluations are used at the same time to demonstrate success and to identify success factors, but also to reveal problems and barriers of current RIS3 implementation and to take counter measures for improvement. Counter measures usually don’t mean the final stop of the respective activity or instrument, in particular when RIS3 is based on a comprehensive and reliable analysis.

The RIS3 process is often missing sufficient limitation of the numbers of priorities when politicians fear to fall out of favour with those regional stakeholders whose technology fields are not prioritised. This seems to be a wise decision on the short run for the next elections. But as the development of these priority fields is usually requiring a substantial budget there is the high risk of this thin spreading of public resources that at a later stage the budget for single priority fields is not sufficient for full implementation with the consequence of closing some priorities and/or not matching the objectives for RIS3. This problem can be solved by an adequate policy mix of instruments with long-term, mid-term and short term implementation horizon which allows success demonstration of parts of the overall RIS3 implementation already at early stages. These success stories of RIS3 implementation helps to convince regional stakeholders and all RIS3 actors to jointly go the long-term course of RIS3 implementation for increased regional competitiveness and added value. And these success stories are also supportive for politicians in terms of next elections.

Beside the risk of thin spreading of public budget there is an intensive discussion whether technology and innovation services like cluster management or development of strategic technology programs should be operated by organisations, nominated by the responsible RIS3 authority and usually (partially) owned by the region, or by organisations, awarded through a call for tenders in a competitive approach. Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages. In any way, it is required, that the continuation of the instrument is ensured –  at least over the full RIS3 period – in terms of competence, service quality and capacity in coordinated manner with the responsible RIS3 authority.


Step in the RIS process

Long-term thinking as precondition for RIS3 is required in 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?

  • Increased contribution of regional innovation policy to the competitiveness of regional companies with increased added value, thus to new jobs, the regional welfare and quality of life
  • More efficient use of public money
  • Higher satisfaction of citizens with regional innovation policy and politicians


A quote by Irma Priedl, Head of Unit Technology and Innovation, Government of Lower Austria, Department for Economic Affairs, Tourism and Technology

"Linked to our first Regional Innovation Strategy for Lower Austria in 1999 we have formulated the Vision “Establishment of Lower Austria as benchmark for European TOP innovating regions” for the year 2008. Benchmark in the way of being visible for European regions when it comes to innovation policy. In 1999 this vision was a very ambitious one as Lower Austria was so far not known as high technology or high innovative region. In the same year Lower Austria has started with the consequent implementation of its first Regional Innovation Strategy as long-term process. Revealed barriers during implementation were not taken as reason to stop or slow down this implementation but to improve the implementation process.

And indeed: in November 2007 Lower Austria was awarded as Europe's most innovative region by the AER (Assembly of European Regions) for the implementation of its Regional Innovation Strategy. The prize is honouring European Regional Authorities', which have stimulated, fostered and implemented innovation in their territory and thus contribute to regional economic welfare.

This “just-in-time” award was one proof of evidence for the success of the long-term orientation of regional innovation policy. The second proof is the nomination of Lower Austria’s innovation policy as successful show case for Regional Policy for Smart Growth in Europe 2020 by the European Commission, Directorate-General for Regional Policy, in its booklet with the same title in 2011.

However the most important proof of success of the long-term orientation of Lower Austria’s Innovation Policy is a competitive and sound regional economy in terms of business turnover, profitability and export activities, resulting into considerable job creation and contributing to gross added value in Lower Austria as it has been documented in several studies."


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.