Baltic Sea Region S3 Ecosystem Platform (2019-2021)                 

BSR S3 Ecosystem Platform project had the aim to influence, improve knowledge and raise discussion among regional, national and EU level innovation policy makers and experts of the opportunities, challenges and needed capacities related to the development of strategic inter-regional cooperation that would be strongly based on the regional innovation policy priorities in the Baltic Sea region – i.e. priorities of innovation strategies for smart specialisation. The partners of the Platform project share and disseminate good practices of implemented Interreg projects BSR Stars S3, GoSmart BSR, Smart-Up BSR, S34Growth, BIOREGIO and ClusterFy Interreg projects. Policy Area Innovation of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR) actively supports and contributes to the project through The Baltic Institute of Finland.

Driving a new approach to inter-regional cooperation in the BSR

Smart specialisation is said to be the European Union’s most ambitious regional innovation policy program with the aim to boost European competitiveness. Since 2014, EU-member regions have created and implemented Research and Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation (RIS3) including selection of key economic priority fields that guide the efficient use of EU Funds in the regions. These regional strategies are updated over time with the aim to correspond to the changes in regional, European and global innovation environment. Engagement of research, business, public sector and civil society actors is a key to efficient RIS3 development and implementation.

In the new EU programming period 2021-2027, the European Commission emphasises the role of S3 as a strategic tool in enhancing inclusive green transition in line with the EU Green Deal and developing more effective interregional innovation cooperation. For the latter, the Commission has recently launched a new inter-regional innovation investment (I3) funding instrument to enable joint investments aiming to realise interregional smart specialisation.

Also the new EUSBSR action plan of the Policy Area Innovation (PA Inno) aim to support the development of interregional value chains across the strongest areas in the BSR, such as advanced manufacturing, bioeconomy, circular economy, health, blue growth and digitalisation. To support this, the ERDF Managing Authorities in the BSR are currently seeking possibilities to better embed EUSBSR into regional structural fund programmes in the BSR and enable e.g. coordinated ERDF calls with various regions.

The Baltic Sea macro-region with the EUSBSR as a supporting framework has a momentum to influence the development of thematic innovation partnerships and interregional value chains, and as a macro-region build connections to global value chains.

Smart specialisation and interregional cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region: Experiences from 2014-2020

The Baltic Sea Region has a long history of interregional cooperation. According to a study made within the BSR S3 Ecosystem Platform, “Smart specialisation in the Baltic Sea Region – Learning towards Macro-regional Specialisation”, EU Interreg projects have been a good way to strengthen regional capacities, share and learn from other regions to support regional innovation strategy and S3 implementation. The  study is based on interviews with nine BSR regions: Central Finland, Hamburg, Helsinki-Uusimaa, Lithuania, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Päijät-Häme, Tampere Region, Trøndelag and Västerbotten. It describes their regional S3 processes and interregional practices tested in Interreg projects.

Some projects have built thematic interregional networks (RDI2Club; bioeconomy and BIOREGIO; circular economy), some have developed and piloted methodologies to strengthen regional S3 (LARS, EmpInno) and interregional S3 (GoSmart BSR), while others have focused on joint S3-releated challenges and organised study visits and inter-regional innovation camps to find new perspectives and solutions to the joint challenges (SmartUp BSR and BSR Stars S3). There have also been projects which have adopted a strong influencing towards shaping future EU-level policies regarding thematic interregional cooperation (ClusterFY and S34Growth). The experiences from these projects linked with regional smart specialisation processes have provided:

1) experiences from cooperating with regions with related S3 priorities
2) various methods related to identifying partners with mutual or complementary strategic competences, needs and interests
3) practices that support longer-term partnership- and trust building.

Furthermore, the findings of the study indicate that the basis for the development of strategic interregional S3 is built on a successful stakeholder involvement process (so-called Entrepreneurial Discovery Process), good governance, awareness of innovation ecosystems & value chains and sufficient flexibility to adapt to new developments at the regional level. For example companies in many regions are forced to re-evaluate their connections to global supply chains in the changing context.

Value chain analysis and mapping

The BSR S3 Ecosystem Platform proposes value chain analysis and mapping as a useful tool in the development of interregional innovation cooperation. A pilot exercise of the first stage analysis of the BSR’s circular bioeconomy (CBE) value chain was undertaken as part of the Platform project. Based on the pilot a “first-stage value chain mapping analysis of the Circular Bioeconomy across the BSR” and an accompanying “value chain mapping manual” have been produced describing a method for identifying relevant value chains across regions in a selected field.

National and regional perspectives: opportunities and challenges

During first half of 2021, the BSR S3 Ecosystem Platform project has organised a series of webinars with the aim of reaching out to a number of regional, national and EU innovation policy makers as well as innovation practitioners to discuss the opportunities, challenges and needed capacities related to the development of interregional innovation cooperation as well as the relevance of value chain mapping.

The discussion in the workshops highlighted the need for:
– political will and motivation
– good innovation policy governance and continuous interaction with various innovation stakeholders
– leadership skills, including a mind-set that allows a pioneering role, testing and risk taking
– a political and financial framework that enables resources for this work at the regional level.

These elements are needed for the building of long-term strategic innovation cooperation and partnerships that can eventually lead to joint investments. The regions have an important role in strengthening the commitment of all actors, including the business sector, to move forward with selected strategic direction with interregional cooperation. A crucial point is the need for more strategic planning of single projects. For example one of the key challenges in current inter-regional cooperation is the gap between demonstration and scale-up as most interregional projects do not reach the scale-up phase.

BSR S3 Ecosystem Advisory Hub

The BSR S3 Ecosystem project has been underpinned by a highly experimental and interactive process, bringing together BSR (and wider EU) innovation actors from policy, research / science and industrial perspectives, to sharpen the focus of innovation collaboration efforts across the macro-region. Finally, recommendations and results of the BSR S3 Ecosystem project, materialized in the main ‘BSR S3 Ecosystem Advisory Hub’ as a source of strategic advice and support for the macro-region’s innovation community, which also constitute a basis for the EUSBSR PA INNO S3 agenda and actions from 2022 onwards. This Hub should facilitate the upgrading of industrial innovation collaboration opportunities across the BSR towards a stronger EU and global value chain orientation.

General recommendations of the BSR S3 Ecosystem for the longer term innovation cooperation in the Baltic Sea region are:

  1. Strong and continuous regional support, capacity building and investment is required to create sustainable foundations for joint S3 / innovation collaboration across the BSR, which can shift from a ‘project to process’ orientation.
  2. Inter-disciplinary approaches are required in order to adopt a holistic mindset relating to S3 and UN Sustainable Development Goals.
  3. The BSR is well-positioned to create new EU added value in the area of S3 interregional collaboration, given its history, capacity and experience across macro-region.
  4. The BSR requires a permanent ‘space’ (the hub) for regions and their innovation actors to converge – where they can share knowledge and co-create ideas and actions to take their plans and ambitions from a regional S3 focus to an interregional one.
  5. Facilitation the brokerage of different innovation actors across the BSR is needed (especially industrial actors) with the aim of setting out pathways for joint industrial-led, innovation investment.
  6. Adopting an S3 ecosystem approach – across the BSR – to deliver the Green Deal’s twin transitions will be essential / It is important to ensure that the Green Deal’s twin transition agenda embraces an inclusive approach, acknowledging highly differentiated needs of different groups of stakeholders and different territories across the BSR (S3 offers an holistic framework to achieve this.).

Please find more details about the project at the project website of Region Västerbotten.

Platform partners

Platform partners: Region Västerbotten (Sweden),The Baltic Institute of Finland (Finland), Aalto University (Finland), Lahti University of Applied Sciences (Finland), Hamburg Institute of International Economics (Germany), Agency for Science, Innovation and Technology (Lithuania) and Trondelag County Authority (Norway), St. Petersburg State Healthcare Institution “Medical Information and Analytical Centre” (Russia). The Russian partner “State Medical Information and Analytical Centre” focuses on developing and utilising value chain mapping principles in the healthcare sector for the development of seamless healthcare services in St.Petersburg.

Contact persons in the Baltic Institute of Finland
Johanna Leino & Esa Kokkonen