The concept of smart specialization has rapidly acquired a central position in European policy and academic circles. It raises interesting challenges for the regional studies agenda. First, smart specialization is about not only policy formulation, implementation and evaluation but also pooling scattered resources, competencies and powers to serve both shared and individual ambitions. Thus, policy formulation and implementation need to be seen in a new light. Second, when smart specialization is seen as one of the platforms for aligning several actors to boost regional economic development, the need to understand agency in its multiplicity emerges as central. This paper argues that to achieve truly transformative smart specialization strategies, there is a need to investigate in more depth the multi-actor strategy processes and new forms of leadership, as well as to invest time and money in advancing related capabilities across European regions.
Sotarauta M. (2018) Smart specialization and place leadership: dreaming about shared visions, falling into policy traps? Regional Studies, Regional Science, 5(1), 190-203.
Markku Sotarauta Professor of Regional Development Studies Faculty of Management and Business at Tampere University, Finland
The interview transcript
Hi, welcome to Coffee Break with Researchers!
Today, I am having a coffee break with Markku Sotarauta.
He is a professor at the Faculty of Management and Business at Tempere University in Finland.
He is also an expert in Regional Development and Leadership.
Hello Markku, thank you for accepting my invitation to a coffee break.
How are you doing?
Hello, I am very fine, thank you, and it is a pleasure to join you.
I am having today a delicious coffee from Peru, which one are you having?
I am never good with brands but it’s the very same, black, bitter coffee we are always drinking here in Finland.
That sounds like a really nice coffee. I was just reading one of your papers in which you discussed the most important traps when designing policies and implementing them regarding smart specialisation.
Could you please tell me in your own words what the paper was about?
The papers is first of all about the latest policy fashion here in Europe – smart specialization – and all the difficulties it may end up having and the place leadership it needs to be executed in the end.
Since smart specialisation is such a key-concept, could you please define it?
Smart specialisation is about bottom-up, inductive way of doing policy, where the main aim is to mobilise and coordinate the activities and capabilities and powers of all the main entrepreneurs and leading organisations in the region to construct a shared vision.
Which ones where your main findings and challenges in writing this paper?
Well, there are main-challenges. I basically call them traps because we sometimes overuse the concept of challenges and forget that there really are difficulties.
The main traps, for example, are related to governance issues. Not all the regions and countries in Europe are well-suited for this kind of new policy.
Basically, their governance capacity is not good enough.
Related to that there might be issues related to capabilities.
Local, regional and also national level practitioners are not trained for this kind of policy-making and this is calling for new thinking.
In addition to that also institutions may be in conflict. Some institutions favouring for smart specialisation, some hampering it, and that is a main issue.
And in the end, it may be that, and most likely I would say, the idea of shared vision may turn out to be really, really difficult to construct.
Based on these findings, which ones would you say are the most important policy-implications for implementing smart specialisation strategies?
The main thing is to understand that smart specialisation is not the normal way of doing policy, designing policy, implementing it and then evaluating it and then starting the whole cycle again.
It’s essentially about pooling and coordinating and mobilising capabilities, powers and resources etc. and that calls for a new kind of leadership to succeed.
I would very strongly recommend regions and countries in Europe to start learning and training themselves for new kind of leadership skills.
Let me ask you about your personal motivation in doing this research.
What was your main driver in doing it?
A very obvious motivation is that I have been writing quite a lot about place-based leadership and that is one of my “hobby horses” if you like.
Another motivation is that I have seen similar kind of programs and policy initiatives here in Finland and I have seen them succeed and fail and I truly would like to see smart specialization to succeed and that’s why I though that linking place-based leadership might add some value to that debate in Europe.
These were my questions Markku. Thank you very much for having a nice chat with me.
I hope to see you next time and wish you all the best for your future research.
Thank you, it was my pleasure.
Bye, Bye.Tags: institution, mobilization, place leadership, policy, Smart specialization, vision