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IKINET Streszczenie raportu

Project ID: 506242
Źródło dofinansowania: FP6-CITIZENS
Kraj: Italy

Final Report Summary - IKINET (International knowledge and innovation networksfor european integration, cohesion and enlargement)

The IKINET project aimed to increase the understanding of the process of knowledge creation and innovation in medium technology sectors in the European Union (EU) and to identify the characteristics of knowledge and innovation networks within regional clusters and the barriers for their enlargement at the European level. It investigates strategies that SMEs in medium-technology industries apply to adjust their knowledge creation processes to global structural challenges.

Seven regions were selected in the IKINET project to cover the variety of starting conditions and challenges of the European regions within the global competition:
- Ile de France as one of the most advanced metropolitan areas with a large research and development (R&D) infrastructure and many big industrial companies: optics cluster;
- Hamburg as one of the most advanced metropolitan areas with a high share of business related services and a smaller industrial basis: aeronautic cluster;
- Madrid as a metropolitan area of the Southern European member states with a huge growth in recent years: aeronautic cluster;
- Styria as an old-industrial area with huge success in the re-structuring process towards a knowledge-intensive industrial area: automotive cluster;
- Wales as an old-industrial area with high growth rates due to foreign investments, but less R&D investments than Styria: aeronautic cluster;
- Campania as a lagging region in the incumbent member states with growth rates in R&D and qualification levels: aeronautic cluster;
- Silesia as a lagging region in the new member countries with a long industrial history but huge challenges of structural challenges: mining machinery cluster.

Medium technology sectors have achieved high success in industrial restructuring and play a key role in European competitiveness, as they represent the largest share of European export in manufacturing industry and indicate the highest growth rate in European exports toward global markets.

Differently from the 'linear approach' focusing on internal R&D activities and external technology transfers, which applies to large firms and high-tech sectors, innovation processes in SMEs and medium technology sectors are characterised, according to a 'systemic approach', by informal and gradual collective process of interactive learning, the iterative adaptation between the different partners and an implicit process of automatic selection of the most competitive innovations. This 'systemic approach' leads to promote knowledge networks and cooperation between the various local and external actors and to develop the internal capabilities of these actors.

The processes of knowledge creation have a localised nature, as knowledge can only develop in a localised or specific framework and it calls for the 'cognitive proximity' of the various actors, which participate to an interactive learning process. Differently from large firms, SMEs should not be considered individually, but rather as part of a complex regional production and innovation system.

The traditional industrial clusters, specialised in a single sector, have evolved into territorial networks, which are characterised by a greater sectoral diversification, a greater integration of the various sectors of the local economy and also by an increasing internationalisation. The cluster concept has evolved from a predominantly material linkage and agglomeration based concept to that of an institution that supports knowledge generation and the sharing of knowledge.

A change in the corporate culture is needed in order to promote knowledge sharing and the willingness to collaborate. Human resources should not be considered only for their absorptive capacity and resistance to the adoption of technologies, but rather as the actors, which promote innovation and are endowed with specific capabilities. Formal education and life long learning are instruments, which promote the building of the competencies of the various partners in localised knowledge networks and their ability to use external tacit and codified knowledge in the process of innovation.

The focus on the process of knowledge creation rather than on the adoption of technologies, should lead to promote creativity, which is based on diversity, tight interaction between different and dispersed actors and the capability to establish new connections between different pieces of information and knowledge. Networks organise diversity and facilitate the combination of information and knowledge. Creativity may be hindered by the lack of needed competencies in the local economy and indicates the need for cooperation with international universities and major international companies.

Innovation in medium technology sectors can be stimulated more by projects aiming to respond to new needs and demands of the user side and to the creation of new 'lead markets' rather than by the aim to commercially exploit new technological discoveries. The problem is not the creation of new geographical clusters, but rather to promote new strategic projects in the existing clusters and regions.

Competence centres are new instruments of innovation policy, which are suitable for the SMEs in medium tech sectors and may be adopted in countries where they do not exist. The IKINET project may help in illustrating the different dimensions of the process of knowledge creation at the local level and in providing guidelines for defining the strategy of competence centres. Competence centres should promote:
- the response to the emerging needs of the user side and the creation of new 'lead markets';
- the use of the accumulated knowledge within the cluster and collective interactive learning processes between the local actors;
- new activities or 'strategic spin-offs', which can lead to a diversification of the local economy;
- the design and adoption of large strategic projects of innovation requiring the coordination and cooperation of multiple partners;
- success in an increasingly complex and connected world and international links, enhancing an international integration and competitiveness.

The role of the EU changes in this context. Direct R&D and capital subsidies actually can only hardly reach SMEs in medium-technology sectors, as the SMEs miss necessary formal R&D and strategic resources to cope with EU preconditions in order to participate to large R&D European projects. Instead, EU policy should focus on:
- support of competence centres as intermediaries for SMEs;
- subsidisation of public-private funding of competence centres in lagging regions aiming to extend the cooperation between these regions and leading agglomerations;
- initiate contests on strategic lead projects on a regional and interregional level enhancing the participation of new companies;
- promote projects integrating medium-technology industries with universities and high technology services aiming to extend industrial value chains and to diversify in new qualified productions;
- promote European linkages between regional competence centres by standardisation of information, qualification courses for the managers of competence centres, technological norms and support to bridging organisations;
- adopt strategic regulations to strengthen European technical safety and environmental standards in the global market and promoting the development of new productions.

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