Smart specialisation in rural areas and the issues at stake

With Europe facing global competition and fiscal austerity simultaneously, it is necessary to focus resources on creating sustainable jobs and growth. For rural regions, the necessary competitive edge can be done by finding niches or mainstreaming new technology into the existing industry.

Three issues that are especially pronounced when working with RIS3 in a rural area are:
Firstly, finding the correct niche activity that promotes innovation and spillover effects. It is important to identify the resources in rural regions through the angle of present-day challenges and trends in society. The goal is to diversify the system through the generation of new options.
The second challenge relates to finding the resources and conditions that are needed to design effective policies. It is important to gather relevant sectors and actors present at the local level, in order to explore jointly the possibility of their contribution to each others growth activity. One should always remember the need to incorporate and explore the wider concept of innovation by S3.
The third major challenge is to effectively maintain the policy and monitoring system set in place. Capacity needs to be built in order to face the challenges and address the demands of the new generation.

Smart specialisation in action

While it may be challenging to develop smart specialisation strategies in less connected and more rural areas, regions have found creative ways to build their innovation strategies on assets in their territories. Examples range from developping the role of incubators to increase entrepreneurship and develop innovative digital sector companies, to connecting clusters or developping special agricultural products.

Typically, the Cohesion region Centru in Romania, which includes Covasna, incorporates Spa tourism as a part of smart specialization strategies. Covasna’s special asset in this context is a spa resort recommended for cardiovascular disease.

Where do we stand in 2020?

In the EU’s Smart Specialisation Platform, S3P, more than 200 regions have registered, from 26 different countries. A joint research group has been formed to provide concrete support to RIS3 implementation in lagging regions. Targeted support is also provided for maritime activities, digital growth, and collaboration with higher education.

It has been estimated that by the end of 2020 the smart specialization strategy will bring up to 15,000 new products to market, create 140,000 new startups and create 350,000 new jobs in Europe. Over 120 different smart specialization strategies have so far been developed in Europe with EUR 67 billion set aside to fund such initiatives.