The economic development of cities and regions has always been a topic of public interest, academic debate (in the fields of regional science, regional economics and economic geography, among other social sciences) and political controversy. Actually, it is about providing equal of choice for all, job access and living standards for a suitable development.

Funding from the EU

The European Union (EU) tools for regional policy are the expression of its cohesion policy, which aims to reduce inequalities among regions through economic growth and employment.

The specific policy instruments that make this possible are, among others:

  • The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)
  • he European Social Fund, focused in improving workers the employability
  • The Cohesion Fund, for building infrastructures in countries with a GDP per capita below 90% of the average of the EU

Traditionally, the ERDF plan has been focused on the construction of public works and improving existing equipment and infrastructure, whether in rural or urban areas. However, this approach changed when the new ERDF 2014-2020 program was launched. Now the paradigm is the transition towards a model of smart specialization. This approach is based on the S3 strategy, inspiring operational plans to be developed by EU regions  in order to apply for ERDF 2014-2020 funds.

What is S3?

S3 means Smart Specialisation Strategy. An S3 project or action involves generating an integrated territorial economic transformation that has previously identified priorities, key challenges and needs in order to harness the strengths, competitive advantages and the potential for excellence within the knowledge society agenda.

S3 requires the identification of the productive potential of a territory and the generation of  integrated development projects, ie projects in which all social, economic and public service agents work together to push them forward. The goal is to support social and technological innovation, to stimulate co-investment along with the private sector and to boost the dynamics of collaborative work.

S3 is a pure strategy of collaboration between private companies, civil society organizations, research centers, higher education institutions, professional and public administrations to share knowledge and generate new opportunities of local development rooted on the potential of their territory.

Intelligent specialization. The Catalan Case

In Spain, regional governments are the public institutions responsible for the implementation of the S3 strategy. For the Catalan case, for instance, the regional government promoted the RIS3CAT strategy as the method for implementing EU prescriptions on a dual logic of sectoral specialization (the so called Communities) and territorial specialization.

In the latter case through a specific tender, territories led by the municipalities of big cities or county councils, began the implementation of the RIS3CAT strategy:

  1. Definition of the territorial consultation process for the identification of local key agents
  2. Diagnosis of local needs and potential from a smart specialization point of view
  3. Definition of projects according to the specific tender requirements
  4. Submission of documents, a process that ended September the 5th, 2016
  5. Public call resolution, scheduled for March 2017

The number of RIS3CAT projects led by City Councils and District Councils was 35, and now the Catalan government is in the process of reviewing the records.

In short, from U·TRANS we can affirm that our experience in participating in the development of a RIS3 CATstrategy has been an exciting, innovative and quite difficult process. However, we are convinced that there is no alternative to the Quadruple Helix paradigm to keep fostering local economic development.

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October 19, 2016

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