28/06/2018 Interview

Albert Castellanos Maduell, General Secretary of the Department of the Vice Presidency and of Economy and Finance of the Catalan Government

“RIS3CAT defines a broad and shared vision of the future”

Why is the European Union committed to the smart specialisation of the regions? What opportunities does it offer?

Research and innovation strategies for smart specialisation (RIS3) support the economic and knowledge specialisations that best suit the resources, capacities, and skills of each territory, and reinforce their potential for innovation. Depending on their economic and international function, EU territories must define their RIS3 in terms of global trends, their position in the international chain. With the RIS3, the European Union wants to make European investment in research and innovation more coherent and maximise impact on economic and social development in the territories and in Europe as a whole.

The European Union promotes the orientation of regional research and innovation systems and public policies towards the challenges of society, the needs of citizens and collaborative innovation, promoting innovation and research as a driving force for social transformation.

How is the smart specialisation strategy in Catalonia implemented?

The RIS3CAT defines a vision for Catalonia: a country with an industrial base, and an open, competitive and sustainable economy, which combines talent and creativity. In addition, there is a diversified business and research system based on excellence in the context of a dynamic, entrepreneurial and inclusive society. In the country, multinationals and local companies coexist with well-established, international sectors and emerging technology sectors.

RIS3CAT identifies seven sectorial areas of specialisation and six enabling technologies that should facilitate Catalonia’s transition towards a more competitive, sustainable and inclusive model. The RIS3CAT Action Plan, which is updated annually, contains the instrument for supporting research and innovation financed by the ERDF. In Catalonia, smart specialisation is regarded as a dynamic process that is the result of the investment decisions taken by Catalonia’s agents, both companies and universities and other research and innovation agents.

RIS3CAT has designed instruments that are aligned to the needs identified. Which instruments implemented by RIS3CAT would you highlight?

The best-known instruments are the RIS3CAT and PECT communities, but RIS3CAT also promotes other innovative and transformative instruments such as public investment in innovation and the Catlabs programme.

How is the strategy monitored? Are there any quantitative data on impact? What is your assessment so far?

The European Commission wants to encourage discovery processes, through RIS3, such as participatory forms of governance, with monitoring and evaluation systems that focus not only on achieving objectives, but also on a process of discovery and learning in which the agents of the quadruple helix can participate.

The monitoring system must help us to understand how the research and innovation ecosystem works in all its dynamic complexity (sectorial specialisation, technologies, actors, interrelationships, international connections, etc.) and must provide us with new evidence to inspire new public policies and new dynamics.

In the near future, we plan to present the first version of an open digital platform (RIS3-MCAT) that will enable the collaboration networks of RDI agents and companies in Catalonia to be mapped on the basis of data from projects selected through competitive calls for proposals financed with European funds. The platform facilitates the segmentation of entities and projects into sectorial areas and technologies, as well as the analysis of trends and research and innovation communities and networks in emerging areas and in collaboration with international partners. It will be a key tool for all actors in the research and innovation system, and will help us to make evidence-based strategic decisions.

RIS3CAT projects are monitored with quantitative and qualitative indicators. It is still too early to assess the impact. A mid-term evaluation of RIS3CAT will be carried out in 2019, while the final evaluation will not take place until 2023.

Do you think that there are now greater links between the public and private spheres, and between science and technology?

Without any doubt, RIS3CAT has helped to organize collaborative projects and use scientific and technological knowledge to respond to the challenges of companies, public administrations and the general public.

This is a bidirectional and iterative process that has taken into account a variety of parameters and criteria and has involved different stakeholders. It also requires multi-level governance. How has it been organized?

The leaders of the RIS3CAT are the agents of the innovation system. In particular, they are universities, research and technology centers, the public administration and companies that access the ERDF to undertake strategic innovation projects and generate economic and social value for the country. RIS3CAT promotes collaboration between various agents and puts into practice innovative projects and actions designed to solve economic and social challenges.

The RIS3CAT monitoring system envisages the active participation of all the agents involved, so that learning can be shared and public policies in support of innovation and the economic and social impact of projects can be improved.

The territorial specialisation and competitiveness projects (PECT) aim to generate innovative economic activity at the regional level. Partnerships between various actors are one of the basic requirements. What is the outcome of these strategic governance proposals? What impact do they have on Catalonia as a whole?

The PECT is an innovative instrument, a reference in Europe because Catalonia is one of the few territories that have actively involved local authorities and implemented the RIS3. PECT has been activated so recently that it is still too early to talk about its impact. In fact, 30 million euros has been allocated to 25 PECTs, with 144 actions in Catalonia. There are some very interesting projects, which are generating new dynamics of collaboration between regional agents, and especially between universities and local authorities. The PECT will undoubtedly have an important direct impact on the territory. The next call is scheduled for the end of the year. In addition, the Catlabs programme is working on the co-design of different agents, with an approach oriented towards collective impact in both economic and social terms.

It could be said that this collaboration between the agents of the quadruple helix has fostered competitiveness in Catalonia. Could you give us a case study?

The collaboration among the agents of the quadruple helix to find innovative answers to our social concerns is probably the main challenge of RIS3CAT, and, without any doubt, will contribute to the competitiveness of the country. The next RIS3CAT monitoring report is scheduled for the end of the year and it will include the first success stories. What should make us think is that the most successful examples are the result of strategic planning, which has not been improvised because of a call for proposals, but has probably matured and become a reality.

How is the vision of the future shared by agents from different regions of Catalonia?

RIS3CAT defines a broad and shared vision of the future. The challenges to which RIS3CAT wants to respond and the instruments used to organize this response involve agents from all over Catalonia. With the RIS3CAT communities, companies, universities and other research and innovation agents work together to implement an agenda to transform industries based on research and innovation. With the PECTs, local authorities, universities and other innovation agents collaborate on projects for the transformation and creation of economic and social value in the territory. Through public procurement of innovation, public administrations work together with business and other actors to develop innovative responses to societal challenges.

In other words, RIS3CAT is a transformative agenda that mobilizes and organizes resources and capacities in the region to develop innovative responses. The RIS3CAT instruments enable the country to progress towards a more sustainable, inclusive and competitive development model, by generating new opportunities and economic and social value.

How have the various agents and the Catalan regions been involved in decision-making on innovation policies?

RIS3CAT was designed by stakeholders working in groups and public consultation. But the most important role of the agents and the regions is the prioritization of the areas of specialisation by promoting and undertaking research and innovation projects with co-financing from the ERDF. From a strictly territorial perspective, for the first time, the PECTs have guided the innovation strategies agreed to by local agents, some of which have had a regional scope. The experience of the first PECT call is useful to see the scope, strengths, and weaknesses of involving local and regional actors in the definition of innovation strategies.

What specific role does the university play in RIS3CAT? And apart from this strategy, what role should the university play in the governance of the regions?

Universities play a key role in the generation, dissemination, and application of knowledge for the competitiveness and sustainable development of the territory. In RIS3CAT, universities actively participate in almost all the instruments. They collaborate with companies and public administrations and contribute to developing innovative solutions to the challenges of society. Training and the generation and transfer of knowledge must continue to be its main contribution to moving towards a more sustainable, inclusive and competitive development model.