As the European Commission points out, Smart Specialization is an innovative approach that aims to boost growth and jobs in Europe, by enabling each region to identify and develop its own competitive advantages. It brings together local authorities, academia, business spheres and civil society, to define and implement long-term growth-oriented strategies supported by EU funds. To date, more than 120 smart specialization strategies have been developed in Europe. Smart specialization is now facing a major evolution with the proposal of moving from the current smart specialization strategy (S3) to smart specialisation strategies for sustainable and inclusive growth (S4+). As noted by a recent report published by the Joint Research Center of the European Commission “S4+ means reinforcing the S3 mission-oriented policy approach with non-neutrality, direction, and system approach to engage regions in European initiatives dealing with missions. S4+ implies a policy shift in the way regions may consider setting policy priorities to push technological innovation and their responses to regional societal challenges.” This new paradigm in the smart specialization strategy for regions connects these strategies and actors at regional and national level with EU-wide policies such as the European Green Deal and the new European industrial strategy for a sustainable recovery to the new green and digital economy, an also with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In this sense, it repositions smart specialisation in the new EU policy agenda to use the unprecedented EU investment for local jobs creation in the post-Covid recovery.
This revolutionary transition from S3 to the new S4+ requires the cooperation and alignment of all actors involved in smart specialization strategies:
- (1) education, and in particular higher education (HE) and vocational education and training (VET),
- (2) the public sector, and especially the entities involved in the design and development of smart specialisation,
- (3) the business sector, with special focus on the companies belonging to the prioritized sectors of each region, and
- (4) society in general.
Sustainability is a multifaceted concept that encompasses technological, cultural, environmental, social and economic aspects. Each agent of an economy experiences different challenges and demands different solutions when confronting it. Besides, place-based policies such as smart specialization can be very effective in fostering sustainability, due to the exploitation of competitive advantages also in this pursuit, but at the same time, they require great amounts of benchmarking and mutual learning. For all these reasons, knowledge co-creation and sharing is essential in the arrival of sustainable specialization strategies, both between the agents of local innovation ecosystems and between regions themselves. Alliances for innovation are excellent tools for such intra and between-regions cooperation, as they have been conceived to promote precisely those two kinds of interaction.