11/12/2017

Vision of Southern Catalonia as a Knowledge Region: the opinions of the region’s political leaders Josep Poblet, Josep Fèlix Ballesteros and Carles Pellicer

Three of the region’s political leaders have been interviewed to learn their views and opinions on the fundamental issues effecting the development of Southern Catalonia as a knowledge region

Southern Catalonia has all the characteristics needed to develop as a knowledge region. This involves a willingness to implement European regional policy to design a system of governance that facilitates strategic decision-making at regional level. In addition, the knowledge region is specifically configured as an opportunity to generate wealth and, therefore, to improve the quality of life of people living in the territory. The mayor of Tarragona, Josep Fèlix Ballesteros argues that “increasing the welfare and life opportunities of people depends on developing a knowledge region and, in particular, on urban development based on strategies driven by knowledge research and innovation.”

What advantages are there to Southern Catalonia becoming a knowledge region? Josep Poblet, president of Tarragona Provincial Council, explains that “becoming a knowledge region means that the dynamic of our society, its social and economic activities, are based on knowledge and that is therefore richer and more competitive. Today, being a knowledge region means having a better society”. In addition, Ballesteros stresses the importance of a socio-economic model based on innovation. Meanwhile, Carles Pellicer, mayor of Reus, argues that “outside the Barcelona metropolitan area we have the biggest economy in the country, an economy that is diverse and that needs to take control of its own innovation policy if it wants to rise to the challenges facing the country”. In this regard, Pellicer points to the important economic results that derive from being a knowledge region, which he identifies as: “more technology companies, more local talent, more recruitment of international talent, more research and development and more high-quality jobs”.

The three public representatives of the region also point out some of the region’s qualities, including its “strategically important location and infrastructure such as the Port of Tarragona and the Airport of Reus, which will make it one of the principal points on the future Mediterranean Corridor”. Furthermore, “its rich and varied industry brings together various different sectors such as the chemical industry, energy, agriculture, tourism and historical and natural heritage. These sectors are reinforced by clusters and knowledge structures (technology parks, technology centres, innovation centres, etc.) and the Universitat Rovira i Virgili’s role as a research institution.

The economic and social sectors

One of the major concerns is involving the business and industrial sectors in the knowledge economy to create areas of specialization and boost R&D&I and increase international investment. Firstly, Poblet points out that “becoming a knowledge region would bring added value for the business sector by opening up new markets”. He goes on to say that “companies will play the most important role because they are the ones who generate wealth, and so by increasing the role of knowledge in their activities, one also increases the wealth that they generate”. Moreover, “investment will increase the competitiveness of companies and technology centres”. On the other hand, Ballesteros states that “constructing a knowledge region is also a challenge for these sectors (…) if they are going position themselves competitively in an increasing complex and globalized economy”. At the same time, Pellicer maintains that a knowledge region would cater for a different socioeconomic contexts and “allow us to increase volume and generate economies of scale”.

The system of governance and the quadruple helix system

One of the main challenges to creating a knowledge region is creating a system of governance that facilitates the coordination among participants and, therefore, strategic decision-making. In this regard, Ballesteros comments that not having such a governance system “has clearly been one of our weaker points compared with other economic regions”. Moreover, he adds, “it is not a question of creating new institutions, but rather one of generating space for dialogue and consensus so that the development of the region can take full advantage of our great potential”. Nonetheless, Pellicer argues the need for a specific entity dedicated to this project and reflects that “probably the most sensible thing would be for the Provincial Government to lead the process accompanied by the largest city councils and the University”. Poblet’s vision is based on the need to design, agree and implement a model on which the future of the region will be based. The possible role of the Provincial Council in this system of governance is certainly worthy of consideration.

The quadruple helix model [1] is an essential element in ensuring the success of knowledge region. According to Poblet, such a system should involve the public administrations, the private sector, academia and civil society in “improving the regional quality of all the economic and social sectors involved”. Likewise, Ballesteros points out that the participation “of the public is one of the keys to the process of transformation that we are experiencing. The new technologies are collaborative, open and accessible. Participation, transparency and forms of collaborative management have a key role in defining the strategies needed to become a real knowledge region”. In addition, Poblet emphasizes the desire to “establish contacts with the various stakeholders so that they can interact and bring new ideas”. To do so, they need to create “participatory platforms that allow people to share their views and to drive forward strategic projects”. For this reason, Pellicer mentions the need to “raise awareness among the general public and the various economic sectors”. In fact the mayor of Reus specifies that political agents and public institutions must lead this process: “we should lead the process from the front, drive it along”.

Towards the knowledge region: future developments

Finally, the politicians gave their opinion on the evolution of Southern Catalonia as a knowledge region. All of them call attention to its achievements in recent years and to the involvement of the Universitat Rovira i Virgili, which in its Statute as a higher education institution and, more specifically, in its third mission [2] has developed a dynamic of cohesion and sustainability throughout the territory in which it has a presence, thus improving and generating wealth in its surroundings. Specifically, Poblet states that “the opportunity for the intelligent specialization of the territory will help us to position Southern Catalonia as a Knowledge Region and to achieve our objectives, which in the near future will be key to the harmonious, cohesive and sustainable implementation of this project”. Additionally, he says: “some of these objectives are to create new jobs linked to knowledge to develop a new industrial model based on knowledge to strengthen the competitiveness of the manufacturing sector and to improve social cohesion”. As a matter of fact, the three agree on the need to keep working in this direction to fully develop Southern Catalonia as a knowledge region.

Consequently, the three leaders also agree that the path towards smart specialization also presents an opportunity to equip the region with joint decision-making tools that will facilitate the implementation of European policies and boost the region’s development.

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[1] The quadruple helix model is based on an earlier model that focused on the relationship between university, government and industry in the implementation of local initiatives. However, the quadruple helix model adds a new stakeholder to this model: civil society (Yawson, 2009). Several authors have argued that relationships between these stakeholders promote the development and generation of knowledge. The quadruple helix model has been mainly oriented to strategies of intelligent specialization.

[2] The Universitat Rovira i Virgili has been characterized by its commitment to the territory and society through the Strategic Plan of Third Mission, which promotes the regional development of Southern Catalonia through the transmission of knowledge.


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