ach project began with an assessment of the region's existing innovation infrastructure, which started from the needs of its enterprises and encompassed its universities, research centres and incubators, technology brokers, chambers of commerce and other players, as well as financing instruments and other policy measures. |
"Some less-developed regions simply did not have a distinct innovation policy," explains Michael Busch of the Commission's Directorate-General for Enterprise, which co-ordinates the action. "Here, national innovation support measures were often poorly adapted to specific regional circumstances." In almost every case, regions of this type which carried out a RITTS/ RIS project now have a sustainable innovation policy, with its own organisational structure, staff and budget.
"Even in regions with a strong research infrastructure, there was often poor communication between the innovation system's different actors, overlaps between schemes, and a poor match between services and the real needs of enterprises." In most of these, a fundamental review made it possible to improve performance significantly, often with no overall budget increase. "Fine-tuning has produced greater efficiency and new synergies - for example, creating 'one-stop-shop' service packages for firms," Busch explains.
Wider role for IRCs
Each RITTS/RIS project involved as many innovation players as possible, and every participating region has benefited directly from the resulting interactions - which have led to the development of new technologies, products, joint ventures and public-private partnerships. "They have created dynamic regional innovation communities," Busch says.
IRCs are key members of these communities, believes Javier Hernández-Ros, Head of Enterprise DG's Networks and Services unit. "As transnational technology transfer brokers, IRCs give a region's companies access to new sources of technology and new technological markets," he says. "The Commission would like to see them becoming core activities within all regional innovation strategies."
Busch confirms that IRCs must extend their role as delivery mechanisms for a key service, to become leading players in the innovation policy development process itself. "They have to become integral components of their regions' innovation systems, rather than something added from outside," he says.
Come one, come all
In most RITTS/RIS regions, the process of policy development and implementation is continuing. But what of those regions which have never run an exercise of this kind? Already, at least six are applying the RITTS/RIS methodology independently - and Busch expects more to follow their example as the IRE network spreads awareness of the benefits of the strategy development process.
Under the IRE umbrella, further regions will join a series of new thematic networks, and so gain access to the experience of the RITTS/RIS regions. Meanwhile, a new RITTS/RIS call, launched in mid-2000, will shortly see the start of the first generation of projects in Cyprus and the candidate countries of central and eastern Europe.