john-goddard - Regional Studies Association

The role of universities in shaping and implementing regional
smart specialisation strategies
John Goddard
Emeritus Professor of Regional Development Studies
Newcastle University, UK
What is Smart Specialisation ?
= evidence-based: all assets
= priority setting in times of scarce
=not top-down decision, but
dynamic/entrepreneurial discovery
process inv. key stakeholders
= getting better / excel with something
= global perspective on potential
competitive advantage & potential for
= focus investments on regional
comparative advantage
= source-in knowledge, & technologies
etc. rather than re-inventing the wheel
= accumulation of critical mass
= not necessarily focus on a single sector,
but cross-fertilisations
The ‘entrepreneurial discovery’ process and public
• When linked to economic development ‘entrepreneurial discovery’ is not
just an individual endeavour or confined to the private sector
• It is a combinatorial process – science, technology + market potential +
competitors + supporting regional infrastructure and services
• Not just technological innovation but organisational and societal
innovation(e.g. the region as a ‘living lab’)
• It requires a synthesis and integration of dispersed and fragmented global
and local knowledge ( technological, business and societal) to inform S3
• Breaking down barriers between knowledge producers and users
The entrepreneurial discovery process and public
governance (2)
• The S3 discovery process must therefore foster wide stakeholder
involvement within the region (lateral) and across levels of public (central
+ local/regional and private sector governance (e.g. MNCs) (vertical)
• The how as well as the what of strategy design and implementation
• Incorporating the demand side perspective from civil society – the
quadruple helix not just the triple helix
• S3 requires evidence based choices and related risks. Hence the
importance of robust governance structures.
• These structures should ensure inclusive, open prioritisation and avoid
capture by vested public sector and industrial interests
Universities, RTD organisations and the
‘entrepreneurial discovery’ process
• Who has the knowledge needed? In some regions (esp. those with
small/weak private sectors) it might be universities/research organisations
• These tend to be plugged into national/international networks and may be
better placed to make judgements on the relative strength of regional
• Unlike RTD organisations universities through teaching can build capacity
on the demand side – new business formation, student enterprise,
graduate placements etc – establishing the social relations which underpin
the regional innovation system
• In summary the ‘entrepreneur’ in the context of smart specialisation
needs to be understood much more broadly
Calibrating demand and supply sides
• It is essential that new demand-side perspectives are given prominence,
otherwise the RIS3 exercise runs the risk of being captured by public
sector lobbies (including research interests not linked to regional
• This is of greater concern in the Less Favoured Regions where enterprise
associations and other demand-side bodies tend to be weaker.
• Less Favoured Regions may have strong universities that can generate
world class knowledge, but the universities also need to build capacity in
SMEs to absorb and apply this knowledge.
Multi-level and cross programme governance
• A key objective of S3 is to increase synergy between different funding
streams and policies (i.e to make connections)
• Regional innovation strategies will therefore have to be aligned with
national strategies for research and innovation
• This is challenging as in most member countries, including those with
devolved governments, research and education is an exclusive
competence of the nation state
• These programmes also align with other non-regional EU policies and
programmes (e.g Horizon 2020)
• When developing S3 strategies member states and regions will need to
take account and be involved in discussion of what types of operational
programmes will be presented in the partnership contract
Universities as ‘boundary spanners’ in multi level governance
Culture village
(after Arbo and Benneworth)
(Or just Google ‘connecting universities to
regional growth’!)
The mechanisms by which universities can and do
contribute to development and growth
4 Key Areas;
Enhancing innovation through
their research activities
Promoting enterprise, business
development and growth
Contributing to the development
of human capital and skills
Improving social equality through
regeneration and cultural
Transactional Services vs. Transformational Activities
When exploring mechanisms for intervention we need to make a distinction between the
impact of ‘normal’ university activity (financed as part of the core business of teaching and
research) and ‘purposive’ interventions (initially funded from a source outside higher
education and then ideally ‘mainstreamed’.)
Mechanisms to enhance innovation - examples
What are the issues around university participation?
Universities are a critical ‘asset’ of the country and region; even more so in less
favoured regions ….but
Universities have often been absent from or had a minimal role in national or
regional innovation strategies
Technology push model has dominated - potential contribution of the Arts,
Humanities and Social Sciences to social innovation has been generally ignored
The principles underlying why universities can be important agents in territorial
development in the round not been well understood by public authorities
While a range of mechanisms have been used with varying success, they have
generally not been coordinated strategically to produce the maximum impact.
To achieve this means understanding and addressing a range of barriers and
challenges, both internal to the universities and in the wider enabling environment
The barriers
• Finance
• National HE policy vs. regional policy
• Regional structure and governance
• University Governance, Leadership and management
The Importance of ‘Boundary Spanning’
Boundary spanners help to overcome the sectoral and disciplinary silos that
reproduce old habits and routines, locking regional economies into their
traditional paths of development.
Boundary spanning skills tend to emerge from activities that straddle sectors,
disciplines and professions and they are invariably fashioned in action learning
environments where there is a high degree of novelty associated with the activity.
Examples of such activities include technology transfer , venture funding,
knowledge intensive business services, and management consultancy, all of which
can contribute to an overview of the regional economy.
Within the boundary spanning skill set it is possible to distinguish between
horizontal and vertical boundary spanning perspectives, the former attuned to
inter-organisational relationships within the region, the latter oriented to
relationships between the region and its national and international interlocutors.
The Importance Collaborative Leadership
• Leaders set the tone and vision of the whole process, they therefore need
to be people who command respect and credibility in the region.
• Although their reputations will be partly based on their past
achievements, they also need to champion new vocations for their
• Leadership assumes many forms.
– political leadership (the people who are chosen by the electorate to represent
us and to lead our governments);
– managerial leadership (the people who manage the “enterprise function” in
the public, private and third sectors); and
– intellectual leadership (the people who play a leading role in connecting the
knowledge base in universities to the worlds in and beyond their regions).
An ‘action learning’ leadership development programme to build regional
boundary spanning capacity
The disconnected region
Lack of coherence between national
and regional/local policies
Lack of political leadership
Lack of a shared voice and vision at
the regional/local level
No coordination or representative
voice with which to engage
Motivated by narrow self interest
and short term goals
Dominated by firms with low
No boundary spanners
demand or absorptive capacity
for innovation
Focus on supply side, transactional
Seen as ‘in’ the region but
not ‘of’ the region
Ineffective or non existent
Policies and practices
discourage engagement
Lack of a shared understanding
about the challenges
Focus on rewards for
Entrepreneurs ‘locked out’ of
academic research and
regional planning
The ‘connected’ region – strong partnerships based on shared understanding of the
challenges and how to overcome them
Developing coherent policies that
link territorial development to
innovation and higher education
Evidence based
policies that
support ‘smart’
and growth
Generating intellectual and human
capital assets for the region
Investing in people and ideas
that will create growth
Capacities needed for regions to move from
‘disconnected’ to ‘connected’
• Research labs
• Talent attraction
• Universities
• Private sector
• Clusters
• Critical mass
• Networks and
• Joint projects and
shared facilities
• Boundary spanners
• Ability to create a
shared vision for
the future