A Big Role to Play in Forging Future of EU Regional Policy; Horizon 2020, the European Union's Next Innovation Fund, Could Aid Welsh Researchers but Our Universities Are Already Making Waves. Our New Series, Wales in Europe, Considers the Contribution of Welsh Higher Education Abroad. in Part Four, Cardiff University Academics Kevin Morgan and Adrian Healy Chart the Technological Revolution Taking Place on Our Doorstep

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GOVERNMENTS across the European Union, the Welsh Government among them, are busily preparing themselves for a radically new era - the smart specialisation era.

Smart specialisation is the official name for a new generation of regional innovation policy that the European Commission has designed for the financial period up to 2020. If a region intends to make use of EU Structural Funds after 2014 then it will be required to design and deliver a smart specialisation strategy (S3) for regional innovation.

Although S3 might look like a radical break with the past, it actually represents a new phase in the evolution of regional innovation policy in the EU. The history of regional innovation policy can be traced back to the regional technology plans of the mid-1990s, when Wales was one of half a dozen regions invited to pilot a programme that was freshly minted by the European Commission to boost the innovative capacity of less favoured regions.

Twenty years later, the less favoured regions of the EU are still trying to boost their innovation capacity and S3 is designed to help them to do so.

In essence S3 is meant to be an integrated, place-based transformation strategy that helps regions in five distinct ways: To concentrate public resources on innovation and development priorities; To stimulate private sector invest-ment in research and development; To build on a region's distinctive assets; To foster stakeholder engagement and inclusive governance; and To help regions to invest in sound monitoring and evaluation systems so as to learn what works where and why.

One of the main lessons from the past 20 years is that regional governments have played an overbearing role in the design and delivery of regional policy, so much so that other key players - like universities and the business community for example - have been treated as junior partners when they should have been regarded as equal partners.

The School of Planning and Geography at Cardiff University has been intimately involved in the development of EU regional innovation policy since the 1990s and today we are involved in S3 as academic researchers and as policy advisers.

SmartSpec On the research front we are leading the SmartSpec consortium, a three-year research project funded under the EU's seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development that was launched this month in the European Parliament.

Composed of 11 members, the consortium is an amalgam of leading universities and two regional networks - ERRIN and EURADA - whose membership includes the most active regional development agencies in the EU.

This mix of leading-edge academics and professional practitioners constitutes a judicious combination of skills and knowledge, a mix that is necessary to design and deliver place-based innovation policies that are subject to robust monitoring and evaluation.

Two aspects of the SmartSpec project are worth highlighting here because they underline what is new and distinctive about the S3 era of regional innovation policy.

First, the project defines innovation in a much wider and more inclusive way than ever before, including what is now commonly referred to as social innovation, which we take to mean innovations that are social in both their ends and their means.

The agents of social innovation might be consumers, citizens or social enterprises, agents that tend to be ignored in conventional definitions of innovation that are too narrowly focused on firms and for-profit activities.

Our view is that the societal challenges that all societies face today - especially things like climate change, renewable energy, dignified elder care and the disconnect between wealth creation and gainful employment - cannot be solved without social innovations that harness the energies, imaginations and commitments of civil society organisations and large swathes of what is sometimes patronisingly called "ordinary people". …