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Study on smart specialisation in Germany


European Commission



For the 2014 to 2020 funding period, the European Commission for the first time established so-called ex-ante conditionalities for the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESI Funds). They were introduced to ensure the necessary conditions for the effective and efficient use of the ESI Funds.

Compliance provided the framework for the approval of the Operational Programmes of the Euro-pean Regional Development Fund (ERDF). One of the ex-ante conditionalities that the federal states (Bundesländer) had to fulfil was the submission of their own regional research and innovation strategy for smart specialisation (RIS3 strategy). These strategies contain strategic goals, measures as well as fields of specialisation to be prioritised in the context of regional R&I funding via the ERDF and beyond.

The ex-ante conditionality to RIS3 not only led to a strategic further development of innovation policies in the federal states, but also strengthened the institutional anchoring of the developed RIS3 strategies. "In many federal states, technology- or theme-open funding continues to be the focus of many funding measures. But in more and more federal states, good examples of funding tailored to certain fields of specialisation can be identified," says study director and head of Prognos AG's Brussels office, Dr Jan-Philipp Kramer.

Success factors and challenges

Continuous dialogue between stakeholders, good involvement and effective management by involved cluster initiatives as well as RIS3's own monitoring were crucial for a successful implementation of the strategies. Challenges included interministerial coordination as well as changing departmental responsibilities, the application of the planned governance structures, implementing RIS3 through funding calls and maintaining long-term commitment from external stakeholders.

Determining the results

The results of the study are based on all 15 RIS3 strategies of the German federal states that were prepared for the ERDF funding period 2014 to 2020. Not only the strategic orientation and implementation of the RIS3 strategies in the federal states were identified, but also how well the German regions coordinate their smart specialisation strategies and how well they cooperate.

In addition to a comprehensive document analysis based on the existing RIS3 strategies and supplementary documents (evaluations, monitoring reports, etc.), interviews with the responsible ministries in the federal states from 2016 and 2020 were used for the assessment. In addition, the current study builds on the results of the predecessor study "Status quo of the Regional Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation (RIS3) of the Länder", which was commissioned by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) in 2016.

Outlook and recommendations for action

Based on the challenges identified and the success factors, recommendations for RIS3 strategies for the years 2021 to 2027 were developed. These include the use of transformation roadmaps to optimise implementation processes, more holistic communication about the RIS3 strategies, the further development of funding instruments with a view to the fields of specialisation, and the improvement of specific governance structures.

At the federal level, the complementarity and coherence of regional innovation funding should be further strengthened and supraregional as well as international forms of cooperation and networking should be promoted in connection with the RIS3 strategies.

Also at the European level further promotion of research and innovation and more intensive cooperation in the area of smart specialisation as well as cluster promotion are desirable.

Go directly to the study (European Commission website, PDF, 164 pages, in German)

To the previous study from 2017 (in German)

Dr Jan-Philpp Kramer, Janosch Nellen, Janis Neufeld, Neysan Khabirpour, Marie-Kristin Komendzinski, Dr Friedemann Koll, Dr Jonathan Eberle

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