Measuring
INnovation among
EURopean Subregions

IN-EUR Project minutes of the launch conference

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IN-EUR PROJECT – LAUNCH CONFERENCE
SE RDA Head Office, Braila (RO)
Friday 16th March

The IN-EUR project is officially launched in Braila, during the project kick of meeting and Launch Conference (14-16 March 2012).

45 participants from the local innovation system, including universities, business associations, chambers of commerce and local councils, came together with the 9 partners of the IN-EUR project and another Romanian region, to discuss the project theme and its application at local level. Political support for the project was confirmed by the present on the Mayor of Braila, Aurel Gabriel Simionescu, while the Lead Partner organisation was represented by both the General Director, Luminita Mihailov, and the project manager, Adriana Vaida and the region of North East Romania was represented by the Director of Communication and Regional Promotion of the North East Regional Development Agency, Gabriela Macoveiu.

Mayor Simionescu, in welcoming all the participants to this important conference, reminded us how important it is adapt to time and to changes and to keep up with changes they appear in technology and the business world. To this end, the exchange of ideas and experiences is fundamental. As this project concerns innovation, keeping up with changes is at the heart of all activities.

We all know that it should be something to gain out of innovation and we all need to ensure that it brings profit to our territory. We need to support innovation activity that will help the business sector to develop and be competitive. This is why activities to support SMEs in industrial parks or clusters will be important and represent a priority in this region. However, profit does not necessarily have to be financial. It can also be in the social field, because conditions have changed and requirements from the people have changed. We can talk about innovation in medical and social care, or indeed in the cultural field. All these are grouped into a challenge of keeping up with changes that reality imposes on us.

As presented by Adriana Vaida, IN-EUR - Measuring INnovation among EURopean Subregions fits into this context as it is a regional initiative project financial through the INTERREG IVC programme for interregional cooperation. The project is funded on Priority 1 Innovation and the Knowledge Economy, with a focus on innovation, research and technological development.

IN-EUR addresses the need for local level strategies to ensure innovation and knowledge growth. Indeed, the overall project objective is to improve quality of innovation policy at local level through sharing, integrating and transferring methodologies for measuring innovation.

IN-EUR is based on analysis of existing methodologies for measuring innovation at NUTS III level. Through in depth, interregional exchange, methodologies are updated and adapted in order to produce a shared tool, the Advanced Local Balance of Innovation (ALBI) model.

As confirmed by Luminita Mihailov, this project is strategic for the South East region of Romania as it not only promotes exchange among partners from old and new member stages from all over Europe, but also provides an opportunity to build innovation capacity among partner entities and their local stakeholders. IN-EUR offers a chance to ensure that innovation policy is aligned with local needs, building on local strengths and being mainstreamed to reach regional and national level.

She reminded stakeholders that the EU has two main priorities, under which financing is directed: innovation and sustainable development. Both priorities encourage us to scan our territories and to build on what already exists by sharing good practices and other experiences. This is particularly important as we prepare the next programming period and raise capacity to implement ambitious initiatives in our regions. The results of IN-EUR should be used for long term improvements, including elaborating strategic projects that could be funded through cohesion policy.

Initial exchange began at the Launch Conference, during which Monica Lazzaroni from the European Office of the Province of Lucca, project partner and coordinator of technical components within IN-EUR, presented the work undertaken previously in her territory; work that forms the basis of the IN-EUR project.

IN-EUR is founded on the recognition that data to measure innovation are normally available only at national (NUTS1) and regional level (NUTS2). Within this project, partners confirm the necessity to consider innovation at local level (NUT3); the level where it is actually implemented. Existing indicators are insufficient for this task and, most importantly, for identifying the factors that stimulate innovation.

To this end, in addition to presenting the Local Balance of Innovation, an open and experimental model based on a bottom up approach and previously developed to collect information from individual territories, Monica Lazzaroni saw this Conference as an opportunity to promote debate with participants.

In particular, participants addressed the question of what innovation is and what are the main factors on which innovation depends in a given territory. In fact, innovation is determined by several variables, which are, to name but a few: the adoption of advanced technological processes; the introduction of new products in the industrial system; the level of investment in research and development; the combination between attracting foreign investments and halting delocalisation of existing firms; the existence and quality of support services; education and training; the quality of public administrations, including services offered and complexity of procedures; and also the quality of governance and the diffusion of a culture of innovation among the local population.

This begs the question: is it useful to compare regions that have different sizes and different historical, cultural, economic characteristics? Or should we just use informal exchange to learn from each other? This question can be highlighted when considering the question of education and training, a key to innovation. If one region has a higher education system and another does not, the lesser developed territory can still become more advanced by people leaving the region to study and coming back with more skills.

However, the education system needs to be linked to employment opportunities. In South East Romania, for example, there is a worrying brain drain. After graduating the best researchers prefer to leave, both to go to the capital but also to go abroad. Indeed, the University of Galati has fields of specialities (ship building and food chemistry) and unique teaching methods that are well developed and are requested abroad. Students come to the region for these opportunities, but they find jobs elsewhere, making employment creation a priority of the region.

These are simple examples of how different regions with different characteristics can innovate in different ways; hence the complications in measuring and comparing.

For all these reasons, the method and model being proposed within IN-EUR is not an academic tool but a policy support tool. The methodology should support the effort of local authorities to build up a concrete agenda for innovation. This explains why we are not just looking for statistical data, but work with local actors to collect quantitative and qualitative indicators. For this reason, work is based on creating discussion tables with local actors, including universities, economic and social associations, enterprises of different levels and also schools. The Province of Lucca worked a lot with teenagers, secondary school children as the innovators of the future.

The method also looks at governance of innovation: what is to role of the public authority in promoting innovation through, for example, infrastructure, intellectual property concerns, business support, standards and norms? How many hours do they dedicate to training staff? To what extent do local politicians focus on innovation in their speeches, thus raising its profile? These are all questions that partners in the IN-EUR project will be considering throughout the project.

The methodology being proposed by the IN-EUR project fits not only with strategies within partner regions, but also outside. Gabriela Macoveiu, from the North East Romanian Development Agency, confirms this in her presentation of innovation in her region. The region has a well articulated regional innovation strategy, built up from local and regional needs. However, it is not supported by funding programmes, which enforce criteria that are unsuitable for local actors. For example, programmes concerning industrial areas are designed by consultants, who undertake a very brief consultation in the region but mostly undertake work at national level. The planning process is not sufficiently spread out across the territory and this leads to criteria that are incompatible with the local reality.

Therefore, a model that really helps to understand the local system and to provide this knowledge to the national level, that makes the decisions on funding, would be extremely important in terms of improving the effectiveness and impact of such programmes.

For the sake of sustainability of project results, national statistics offices should be encouraged to include the indicators and statistics that are found in this project. Representatives of all these national institutes should work together to eliminate discrepancies at European level or to set out the minimum necessary of indicators. It is encouraging to see that Eurostat has recently recognised the importance of local level indicators. Indeed, the European Commission has begun requesting information about results of operative programmes and cohesion policy etc, so Eurostat would appreciate any initiative that contributes to this aim. During the workshops that will be organised within the project, it will be important to involve national level statistics offices and Eurostat itself.

In terms of stakeholder involvement, this is the key to implementing and measuring any policy. In the North East region, there is a formalised approach in which stakeholders are involved with a signed protocol right from the beginning of any initiative. This is the only way to gather their experiences and demonstrate the progress being made. In this way, initiatives can also build on existing projects and promote a multiplier effect, rather than duplicating what has already been done. All partners should remember that we are not starting from zero in this field, whatever the level of maturity .

Therefore, stakeholder involvement is the key to IN-EUR and should be guaranteed from the start of the project, by ensuring commitment of core stakeholders in each partner region. In addition to the typology of stakeholders around the table, it is important to include representatives of the big companies in the region. They have ideas, influence and finance available for the process of innovation, which is not exploited enough either in Romania or in other countries.

The Conference shows that there is commitment at political and technical level to promoting innovation in the region. It also highlights the willingness of the local innovation actors to work together, both at local level and with other regions both in Romania and abroad, and their recognition of the importance of the theme.

The discussion on these themes will be on-going throughout the duration of the project and beyond. The work is just getting started and we will be working with partners and stakeholders.