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Regions of Knowledge - Pilot Action

The "Regions of knowledge" pilot action, introduced in the 2003 Community budget as a "pilot project" by the European Parliament, aims to support experimental actions at regional level to develop 'regions of knowledge' in the area of technological development, co-operation between universities, and research at a regional level and stimulate the integration of regions in Europe. Such actions should strengthen the regions' involvement and commitment towards the creation of the European Research Area as well as supporting the achievement of the Lisbon goals and the Barcelona objective (towards a higher investment in RTD with the target being 3 percent of the Union's GDP by 2010, with 2/3 of the GERD coming from the private sector.

Bringing the European regions in the knowledge based economy faster is a priority task. Despite impressive results obtained by many regions of the continent, many regions score low in terms of knowledge based activities. The recent edition of the European Innovation Scoreboard (2002) as well as the second report on Cohesion (2001) confirm that the technology gap between advanced an less favoured regions is growing, despite substantial investments from national and Community sources.

The Barcelona European Council in March 2002 set a measurable target following the Lisbon objective of increasing investment in Research, Technological Development and Innovation towards 3 percent of the Union's GDP by 2010. The Commission's Communication of September 2002 on the same topic identified specific areas where actions are needed to reach this objective and the recently adopted Action Plan focuses also, among other issues, on actions to be undertaken at regional level.

Regions are key players for any action towards achieving the Barcelona objective. However their operational routes are not always clear or sufficiently understood. Regions in Europe enjoy a huge diversity of administrative and operational structures which at the same time may accelerate or slow down their capacity to act and capture the benefits of the knowledge-based economy and society. Know-how develops in this field in many different ways and with different speeds. Where local actors have been active, significant benefits have emerged.

The current experimental action on Knowledge Regions (KNOWREG) introduced by the European Parliament, may provide important insights on different aspects of the routes that regions may follow to reach faster the Knowledge based economy. It will host transnational activities based on territorial initiatives, involving the local authorities, higher education institutions, as well as the two sides of industry (social partners; employers and trade unions, chambers of commerce, federations of industrialists etc.).

In its Communications "Towards a European Research Area" (January 2000) and "The Regional Dimension of the European Research Area" (October 2001) , the Commission outlined the objectives and the scope of a new strategy. The vision of having a fully developed, functioning and interconnected research space, in which barriers would disappear, collaboration would flourish, and where a functional integration process would take place, was thus clearly expressed. A new role for the regions (sub-national entities) as particular actors has also thus been identified in this process.

The European Research Area concept implies that efforts should be deployed effectively at different administrative and organizational layers: at European, national, regional or even local level. In this way, measures would not only be mutually consistent but better adapted to the potential of the regions themselves. By re-examining the role of each of the players (including public and private actors), establishing synergies and taking advantage of complementarities among European, national and regional instruments, a reinforced partnership among all those involved can be achieved. Universities, which are present throughout the regions of the European Union, have a key role to play in local and regional development.

Regional research and innovation activities have a significant influence on the structuring of European research capacity as a whole, for example through the organization and development of research infrastructure, specialized equipment and facilities; linkages with industrial development zones; development and support of centers of excellence; establishment of science and technology parks; mobility of researchers; partnerships between education and training institutes and local technology-based start ups etc. Regions which developed such policies in the past, did so to address two objectives: first, to establish a local research and innovation strategy mobilizing all available resources and actors; and second, to embark on interregional co-operation schemes, forming networks of various types. Both approaches have been supported by the Community's RTD Framework Programme (through the Innovation programme) or the Structural Funds.

Such policies point to a new development model for the organization of European research and innovation systems, which is region-conscious. This involves a targeting of economic development through a systemic mobilization of all resources available in the regions towards concrete goals, harnessing growth, competitiveness and employment, fostering research, technology and innovation at local or regional level. Because European regions have very different profiles in terms of economic development, especially in relation to their capacity to generate, absorb and integrate technological innovation and transforming it into economic growth, adopting a single development model would be a mistake. Nevertheless the adherence to some general development principles seems useful, particularly in relation to research and innovation policies.

Regions emerge as dynamic players in developing and structuring the European Research Area. In supporting the transition of the Union to a knowledge based economy, regions may initiate focused efforts. Here the concept of "territorialisation", meaning a tailor-made research policy approach to address specific territorial conditions, may provide an effective answer. Research policy territorialisation addresses two main issues: first, increasing regional awareness of national research and innovation policies and tuning them towards the socio-economic needs of the regions; and second, directing these policies to build research and innovation capacity in the regions, enhancing their ability to act as drivers for technology based economic development.

This may be achieved through:
_Establishing research and innovation strategies to develop material and human resources such as supplying research infrastructure and equipment, local university and training facilities, support structures to foster creation and growth of innovative enterprises, efficient interfaces within the innovation system linking, for example, researchers, innovators and sources of finance, science and technology parks, research programmes, initiatives to attract researchers locally or promote staff exchanges.
_Fostering partnerships between the public and the private sector in order to contribute to the European knowledge-based economy and stimulate knowledge creation and diffusion.
_Fostering links and networks with actors in other regions with complementary technological assets.
_Promoting an environment conducive to research and innovation, through the introduction of accompanying legal, financial and fiscal conditions, that would prove necessary.
_Stimulating experience exchange with other successful regions in specific fields.
_Contributing actively to an integrated strategy for sustainable development.

Streamlining the efforts of regions in an European Research Area mind-set should have two clear objectives both with a distinct added value for European research and innovation policies: first, to stimulate a better uptake of research results into the local socio-economic fabric (especially vis-à-vis small and medium size enterprises, SMEs) and help translate them faster into economic growth; and second, to increase public and private investment in research and innovation in the regions, thereby stimulating economic and social development.

In the past, interventions to support regional development were mainly based on the provision of capital and support for physical infrastructure. Recent economic research however suggests that upgrading "knowledge" and increasing technology diffusion at regional level may prove one of the most efficient routes for economic growth. Regional Innovation systems may arise when a number of factors are in "proximity", perceived mainly in geographical terms, although this is now beginning to change thanks to advances in information and communication technologies. Nevertheless, geographical proximity remains one of the most powerful factors in favor of intellectual, commercial and financial exchanges, heavily influencing the innovation process. In this sense regions are important because they form the spatial basis of groupings of research and innovation operators which have come to be known as "clusters", often considered as the main drivers of regional development.

Clusters are formed by groups of innovative enterprises, academic and research institutions, local development agencies and/or other supporting organizations. Their structures embody a developing knowledge base, enabling infrastructure as well as a cultural dimension. Clustering is networking at large, with constituent parts developing strong, interdependent links. Interaction flow patterns vary, representing knowledge transfer, financial transactions or simply, increased personal contacts. In such a case, knowledge "spillovers" become ultimately the most important cluster "by-products". Research and technological development lie at the heart of such knowledge spillovers and form part of the key components of successful regional clusters.

Efficient clustering involves multi-sectoral linkages and organizations with different profiles. In its most successful expression, clustering combines industry, government and non-governmental organizations, together with a number of knowledge-specific players (universities, research centres, science and technology parks and technopoles, innovation agencies acting like service, competence and diffusion centres).

Of particular importance in the dissemination of results and the process of commercialization is the interplay with scientific activities and "openness" in terms of exposure to changing markets. University-industry links play here an especially important role. Co-operation between academic spin-offs and their "parent" organisations is often a model of effective regional co-operation. University-industry relations can strengthen the fabric of weaker regions where more traditional industries can turn to universities to investigate and meet their requirements.
The main aim of the action is to demonstrate the central role of knowledge in driving regional development and how regional actors' can effectively participate in formulating their regions' future. This could lead to identifying models for further development activities, which need not be funded necessarily by the Union's budget. Another objective is to increase collaboration on a transnational / transregional basis to enable learning between European regions and the identification of models and activities that can be implemented in different regions.

_ Integrated Regional Technology Initiatives (IRTI).

- The Integrated Regional Technology Initiatives would focus on integrated action at regional level, involving co-operation of local actors that are affected by creation, uptake or diffusion of knowledge to stimulate local or regional development. They should be structured around institutions (public or private) that can be identified as knowledge creators or knowledge users, working in partnership.

The types of activity that are envisaged under Integrated Regional Technology Initiatives are:
- Technology audits and regional foresight (TARF), focusing on analysis of the regional economy and technology fabric and identification of future development scenarios based on the knowledge based society and economy. The involvement of several regions in a given project is expected to provide a broad view of the diverse development situations across the EU.
- University driven actions for regional development (UDARD). Focusing on demonstrating how universities (and assimilated higher education institutions) can play significant roles in local and regional economies by providing expertise, performing an advisory role for local companies or public institutions or stimulating technology creation and uptake by creating spin-off companies, and incubators, in a transregional, transnational mode.
- Mentoring initiatives, focusing on networking between technologically advanced and less favoured regions (Objective 1 regions ) and providing knowledge and experience sharing for technology based regional development. Many European regions lagging in development have seen in the past an increased investment from the Structural Funds (coupled with national funds, public and private) in research and technology schemes. As it is thought that the critical factor for development, is the appropriation of a structured regional innovation strategy, it is expected that technologically advanced regions may provide good models and advice to LFRs, by "walking them through" in a kind of mentoring initiatives for technology based regional development. (Mentoring Initiatives, MI).

_ Supporting activities.

These may take the form of workshops or conferences, promoting the idea of Technology Based Regional Development (TBRD) and raising awareness about the importance of Knowledge as a driving factor for local and regional development. These proposals need also to be made in a transnational, transregional context.
Once the project has received the Commission's definitive approval, a grant agreement, drawn up in euro, specifying the amount and the terms of funding, will be concluded between the Community and the beneficiary coordinating entity.

A first Call for proposal has been published with closing date of 17 September 2003, for more information, see the CORDIS ERA Web service: