Course content

The course deals with innovation policies for regional development. It provides numerous perspectives regarding the concept of smart specialisation and presents the analytical tools and concrete methods necessary for the design and application of smart specialisation strategies on the regional or national scale.
The MOOC will address not only innovation policy issues in developed countries but also development by innovation issues and structural change in the least developed countries.
It will combine formal presentations, case studies carried out in the field, as well as first-hand accounts. Assignments, quizzes and forums will be constant features of this twelve-week programme and offer participants many opportunities to express themselves.


This course is especially intended for public policymakers on the regional, national and international levels, in Europe, North America and Asia. It is also meant for those responsible for development policies, in Africa or South America for example. It is then targeted at experts and analysts who develop consulting services in this domain. And finally it is for Master and PhD students and researchers in the fields of economics and innovation and economic policy and spatial and regional policy. It is necessary that all participants have a good English level. For now the course language is English. In the near future there will be other languages available.


The course is spread over twelve weeks; attendance of the course entails every other week approximately one hour of presentations; in addition 30 minutes of exercises and two hour’s assignment.

Module 1 – Introductions
The objective of this module is to introduce you to the spirit of smart specialisation strategies (S3) and make it clear to you what this expression means for us and also what it doesn’t mean. It’s an important module to ensure that we share the same starting point! The S3 proposes to take your region’s destiny in hand again, by forming capacities that will enable the desired structural changes to be achieved (modernisation, diversification, new industries). For a region, this means setting up a process to identify some strategic domains (or priorities), building capacities and mobilising the innovation actors in these domains and engaging them in collective actions aimed at the development of new activities (or specialities). These will possibly lead to structural changes.

Module 2 – Theoretical elements
This module’s main objective is to connect the concept of smart specialisation strategy to a certain number of other concepts and theoretical debates, in order to situate our approach within the domain of the economics of innovation and the adjacent domains of international trade and globalisation, geography of innovation and technology policies.

Module 3 – Operationalisation: Developing the knowledge base
After a general presentation of the properties of the concept in module one and the theoretical foundation in module two, the main objective of this module is to have a closer look into the process of developing a smart specialisation strategy (S3).
As the name of smart specialisation strategies already says, such a strategy is smart and special. Given these properties, it is obvious that the strategies differ across regions. However, this is not only true for the strategies, but for the process of developing a S3 as well: There is no global blueprint that fits all regions at the same time. Not only the strategy itself but also the process leading to a strategy must be tailored to the region.
Nonetheless, there are a couple of fundamental elements which build the founding parts of such a strategic process, as well as a large number of analytical tools which can be applied in the process of designing a S3. In module three, we provide information on the crucial elements of a strategy development process, more detailed stepwise suggestions, the analytical tools and other resources, which might prove useful in the process.

Module 4 – Operationalisation: From strategy to implementation
The fourth module’s objective is to go further in the operationalisation process of a smart specialisation strategy. While the objective of the third module was about the organisation of an entrepreneurial discovery process in terms of priority areas or strategic domains, this module’s focus lies in the second phase of the entrepreneurial discovery process, which is located within each one of the priority areas identified in the first phase of the discovery process. This entrepreneurial discovery process does not end at the moment when the region-specific priority areas are established. It continues with the exploration of each strategic domain by analysing investments in R&D, specific infrastructural developments in order to facilitate the coordination within specific priority areas. The overall goal of this second phase in the process is to develop transformative activities within each strategic domain that reach critical mass and therefore eventually lead to structural changes in the economy. Due to the experimental nature of developing a S3, its operationalisation has two major implications, which are on one hand the flexibility of S3 and on the other hand evaluation & monitoring of such strategies. Along with these implications the role of public policy and its smart features are discussed. Finally, this module ends with a repetition of the fundamentals.

Module 5 – Smart Specialisation Case Studies in Europe and beyond

This last module is a bit special as it is entirely devoted to the presentation of case studies. Two have already been presented during module one and three (Limburg and the Ticino); and now here are four others! The first is devoted to the European experiment, while the following three focus on the conception and implementation of a smart specialisation strategy in three regions of the EU: the Basque Country, Crete and Värmland.
We would like to acknowledge here the exceptional contribution of the people from these regions who have been responsible for carrying out these case studies – particularly: George Papamichail and Maria Makridaki for Crete, Anders Olsson for Värmland, Edurne Magro and Mikel Navarro for the Basque Country.

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