Phase 1 – Governance

Identifying the RIS3 stakeholders and forming the process organisation.

The first phase in the RIS3 process sets outlines to the project. In the governance phase, the project organisation is organised, the project governance system is created, and the key stakeholders are mapped. In the beginning of the RIS3 process, it’s necessary to identify all the key stakeholders of the Smart Specialisation strategy and decide upon the role and style of the project leadership and moderation.

It’s also good to think early on how the consensus of the stakeholders can be achieved. After all, RIS3 should be based on the mutual consensus between the regional RIS3 stakeholders.


The RIS3 process is collaborative. Instead of being dictated by the regional policy-makers, the Smart Specialisation strategy should be built and implemented in close collaboration with the public authorities, the academia, the business community and the innovation users (the quadruple helix approach). The aim is to bring together regional stakeholders in order to harness their knowledge, resources and connections for discovering new R&D and innovation activities and implementing them in practice.

Quadruple helix stakeholders

The quadruple helix stakeholders

While other quadruple helix stakeholders might be self-explanatory, the innovation users category might raise some questions. Innovation users are those who can benefit and use the innovations that the RIS3 aim to generate. The innovation users are also described as the “civil society”:

A collective entity formed by individual users living on a territory and interacting with university, industry and government as customers, citizens or members of a community in order to contribute to building new innovation paths which are able to promote the socio-economic growth of the territory.

In fact, the innovation sphere works for innovation users because eventually, they are the enablers and end users of the new innovations. This incorporation of the innovation users highlights how the RIS3 should encourage user-centered design in innovation and research.

A regional government alone can’t discover new and effective R&D and innovation activities because it doesn’t possess the same knowledge of the conditions and opportunities in regions as other regional stakeholders. Additionally, if regional stakeholders aren’t involved in forming the strategy, they most likely won’t feel ownership for the resulting Smart Specialisation strategy, and won’t follow or implement it. This can ultimately render the process useless. Thus, for the success of the strategy, it’s crucial to engage stakeholders throughout the RIS3 process.

Before starting to engage stakeholders, it’s important to identify and analyse what kind of regional players exist in the region. Efforts should be concentrated on those stakeholders, who will be most affected by the strategy and/or can effectively contribute to its formulation and implementation.

Our tools 1.1 Vision sharing, 1.2 Stakeholder Engagement and 1.3 Debate at a glance are useful tools for reaching out to stakeholders during the RIS3 process. The tool 1.4 Legal and administrative framework related to ESIF, in turn, assists in understanding the legal framework of the RIS3 governance.

RIS3 governance structure

Typically the RIS3 governance system and the project organisation consists of three elements, the steering group, the management team and working groups:

Steering group
  • Responsible for the overall project success
  • Members come from the business community, local/regional government and key innovation actors
  • The leader typically is a local notable person from the academia, business community or the public sector
  • Ideal number of members is about 15
  • Meetings every two or three months
  • Sets objectives for the overall process
  • Monitors activities
  • Selects the members of the Management team
  • Liaison between the region and the European Commission
  • Gives political and institutional support
  • Supervises the project work programme
Management team
  • Responsible for implementing the RIS3 project under the Steering group’s supervision
  • Composition: project manager and a team of maximum 3 people
  • Provides progress reports (for the European Commission)
  • Provides a secretariat for the Steering Group
  • Launches and coordinates the study assessment tasks of the project
  • Fosters the regional consensus around the project
  • Networking with other RIS3 regions (sharing experiences, learning from others)
  • Location of the Management team is important and affects how others perceive the project
Working groups
  • May be sector based
  • Help to build regional consensus for the RIS3 project
  • Engage the business community
  • Offer information for the Management team and the Steering group
The above RIS3 organisation division is typical, but not the only possible one. The structure of the region’s RIS3 project organisation should always be crafted so that it makes the most sense for the region. This organisation structure design is based on the JRC guide for RIS3.

Consensus building

The whole RIS3 process is built on consensus between the four stakeholders; the public sector, the business community, academia and the innovation users. Unfortunately, it’s possible that the stakeholders are not very connected in the regions. Thus, consensus building and collaboration has to be taken seriously by the project management. This includes thorough planning for collaboration and consensus building in the governance phase.

Consensus builds on stakeholder awareness of the project, the sense of ownership and being able to actually have an impact on the priority setting of the project. The sense of meaningfulness comes from the experience that the RIS3 process is not mere words but actions as well. Thus, incorporating pilot projects, reporting the progress and emphasising the results is very important from the communication perspective. Stakeholders should also have a sense that their input is appreciated and it affects the overall process as well.

Methods for consensus building

How to build consensus.

Should external consultants be used?

In the RIS3 process and especially in Phase 2: Analysis of context it might be reasonable to use external consultants in addition to the regional RIS3 organisation. External consultants are more likely to shed light on delicate issues as they are unbiased. Of course, when assessing the current situation of the region there will be unpleasant things as well as good things. It’s typically easier for external people to evaluate these and bring them to general knowledge. This is because regional stakeholders and the policy-makers might have biases and reluctance to acknowledge unpleasant facts. However, it’s crucial to include even the unpleasant aspects in the RIS3 process. Hence, it is and should be in every stakeholder’s interest to attain accurate knowledge about the current state of the region so that great Smart Specialisation strategies can be made.

Online S3 Governance tools

Our tools for the Governance phase are related to collaborating and communicating with the stakeholders and understanding how the Governance of RIS3 project is connected to EU policy administration and decision making.

1.1 Vision sharing

Vision Sharing is an online communication tool that allows RIS3 managers and facilitators to create visually attractive infographic material. The materials help with explaining, for example, the RIS3 process to a broad audience or conveying the region’s RIS3 visions.

1.2 Stakeholder engagement

This tool enables RIS3 facilitators to invite stakeholders to engage in the RIS3 deliberation. It allows stakeholders to give straight feedback and discuss ideas and documents. Stakeholder opinion can also be conveyed via voting.

1.3 Debate at a glance

This tool enables web-based discussions, idea generation and debates that can be used in the entrepreneurial discovery process. These activities promote stakeholder participation, legitimacy and transparency of the RIS3 process.

1.4 RIS3 Legal and administrative framework related to ESIF

This method will provide an overview of ERDF regulations and EU processes of selecting and funding projects in the framework of national/regional Operational Programmes (OPs). It will enhance the understanding of RIS3 governance within a wider framework of EU policy administration and decision making.