What is RIS3?

An ex-ante condition for ERDF EU funding

RIS3, or the national/regional research and innovation strategy for Smart Specialisation, is the innovation policy of the European Union. The underlying concept was developed in the EU’s expert group “Knowledge for Growth” and adopted by the European Union in 2013. It is a precondition for EU regions to receive funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). Consequently, European regions are now actively forming and revising their own strategies.

Map of Europe

RIS3 concerns all EU regions.

What is the logic behind RIS3?

Smart Specialisation is about identifying the region’s key activities, areas or technological domains that provide a competitive advantage in the global context, and focusing efforts on those. In other words, R&D and innovation funding should not be spread thinly across several technology areas but rather on carefully selected priority areas that provide an inter-regional comparative advantage.

The RIS3 logic is essential due to two main reasons. Firstly, concentrating efforts on certain domains allows realising the potential for scale, scope, and knowledge spill-overs that act as drivers for productivity. Secondly, focusing on certain domains allows the European regions to develop distinctive and original areas of specialisation. This concentration of efforts reduces fragmentation and duplication of efforts in and between the EU regions.

The concept of Smart Specialisation is formally defined in the EU regulation no. 1303/2013 as follows:

‘Smart Specialisation Strategy’ means the national or regional innovation strategies which set priorities in order to build competitive advantage by developing and matching research and innovation own strengths to business needs in order to address emerging opportunities and market developments in a coherent manner, while avoiding duplication and fragmentation of efforts; a Smart Specialisation strategy may take the form of, or be included in, a national or regional research and innovation (R&I) strategic policy framework;

The legislation also sets several criteria for Smart Specialisation strategies. More information can be found in our tool 1.4 Legal and administrative framework related to ESIF or directly in the regulation.

Smart Specialisation mustn’t be regarded as a simple industrial specialisation in a certain area. For example, concentrating on energy production isn’t a specialisation aligned with the RIS3.

Instead, Smart Specialisation is about specialising in R&D and innovation related to promising sectors. The idea is to improve the relations between the R&D and innovation resources and activities, and better the sectoral structure of the economy. For instance, focusing on the development of new renewable energy sources and energy production technologies are aligned with the Smart Specialisation ideology.

Despite the fact that Smart Specialisation concentrates on R&D and innovation, it doesn’t mean that the RIS3 is only for R&D leaders. In fact, while it’s necessary that some regions concentrate on creating general purpose and ground-breaking innovation and R&D, it’s just as crucial that other regions focus on transforming these new concepts into practical applications that can improve quality and productivity in multiple sectors. Turning ground-breaking innovations to practical applications is by no means an easy task. It requires effort and good relations between the knowledge producers and users to generate practical and feasible applications.

EDP circle

Phases of the RIS3 process

Entrepreneurial discovery process

Discovering the right domains to focus on isn’t trivial, even though the basic idea of Smart Specialisation is simple. Indeed, it’s easy for regions to end up selecting similar sets of priorities with one another, because policy-makers often have incomplete information about the conditions and specific opportunities in the region.

To avoid this and make the most out of the regional opportunities, policy-makers should engage various stakeholders in the region in an entrepreneurial discovery process (EDP). In this process, stakeholders together seek to discover new R&D and innovation activities that complement the region’s productive assets. This will support the region in creating inter-regional relative advantage and refining future domestic capabilities. At the same time, the policy-makers should assess these opportunities and empower the most potential ones.

This platform assists and guides in this process.