The primary aim of this article is to reprise the debate about the role and competence of the state in innovation and development, building on the contributions of new industrial policy. It then examines the experience of one of the most ambitious mission-led innovation programmes ever launched in Europe, the Smart Specialisation Strategy (S3) programme, which has been influenced by industrial policy ideas. The article also identifies a number of challenges facing the S3 programme, particularly in the less-developed regions of the European Union, where these challenges are most pronounced.
Morgan, K., & Marques, P. (2019). The Public Animateur: mission-led innovation and the “smart state” in Europe. Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, 12(2), 179-193.
Professor of Governance and Development and University Dean of Engagement at the School of Geography and Planning, Cardiff University
The interview transcript
Hi, welcome to coffee break with researchers. Today we are at the Geography of Innovation Conference in Stavanger in Norway and I’m having a coffee break with Kevin Morgan. He is a Professor of Governance and Development and he is also the Dean of Engagement at the Cardiff University. Coffee Break with Researchers presents you with cutting-edge insights on regional development and innovation. We ask researchers directly in a personal manner about their work. We make scientific knowledge accessible to all. Kevin thank you very much for accepting this invitation to have a coffee break with me.
How are you doing?
It is a pleasure, I’m doing fine, thanks.
I want to talk with you today about a paper you wrote in which you investigate the debate about the role of and competence of the state of innovation and development, could you please tell me what the paper was about?
Well the paper was an attempt to explore the debate about the role in nature of the state in innovation and regional development in the light of new contributions to this new debate what we call new industrial policy and the major contributions to that debate people like Dani Rodrik, Charles Sabel, Mariana Mazzucato, who have made significant contributions to this debate and we wanted to look at that debate and draw out the implications for regional development.
It sounds very interesting. And I see the key notion of your paper is smart specialization strategy. Could you please define it for me?
Well smart specialization is a is a unfortunate Brussels buzzword for regional innovation policy and the core idea is to encourage regions to try to find their comparative advantages and to try to invest in those comparative advantages that’s putting it at its simplest. And the article tried to make two contributions, one to the theory, where we said these grand theories of industrial policy were fine but they had one great problem and that was that they neglected to think about state capacity and the problems that the public sector has in general dealing with things like failure, feedback and learning, and this is crucial to public sector capacity and that capacity problem is most acute in Europe’s less developed regions.
I can imagine that. So based on this notion, which ones would you say are the main findings of the paper?
I think the main findings were really twofold really. On the theory side we said that theorists needed to pay much more attention to the capacity of the state, the skills of the public sector, the organizational capacity. You know things that were important for implementing policy. So theoretically we needed to address these problems of the public sector. Secondly on the policy side we showed that these problems in less developed regions, the main problem was institutional capacity and smart specialization really exposes this like never before because it makes more demands on the public sector than any regional policy has ever done before and therefore it creates this paradox the demands on the public sector are increasing but the capacity of the public sector is decreasing because of ten years of austerity budgets and we explored that paradox. I can perfectly understand that, thank you for clarifying it.
And I am very interested also in knowing your personal motivation in writing the paper, what drove you to do it?
I hope Pedro agrees with this, he is my co-author, my own personal motivation for doing it was to try to change the way we think and talk about the state and the public sector. For 40 years this conversation has been conducted through the lens of neoliberalism and the talk has always been about how to shrink the state how to privatize it deregulate it or outsource it and has never thought positively or creatively about the state, and therefore we think that at a time of grander societal challenges for climate change, food security, dignified elder care, these big challenges that face all our societies, we really need a smart state, not a shrunken state and that’s the motivation to try to create a more positive view of the state if we can get the capacity of the state right.
Thank you, how inspiring is that, and finally I want to ask you about the
policy implications of your paper.
Well I think there are a number of policy implications. The first one is of course the need to invest in the capacity of the state particularly at the regional level in less developed regions, building public sector skill-sets as I’ve said, building organizational capacity. The second implication is to treat implementation seriously. You know policy implementation I think has been the Cinderella of regional innovation policy, people are focused on the design of policy because that’s where the high status stuff goes on, but implementation is a creative act, it’s not a passive act you know, local agents are not worker bees and thirdly I would say to recognize that smart specialization is a multi scalar strategy not just a regional strategy. Therefore we need extra regional support from the European level, from national level, but also we need more autonomy at the regional level to allow regions the space and the power to experiment.
Very important for regional policy making, Kevin. Thank you very much for these insights, it was a real pleasure for me to have you here in a coffee break and I hope to see you again soon.
Tags: experimental governance, new industrial policy, regional innovation paradox, Smart specialisation
Thanks for having me. Thank you very much for watching, if you’re interested in more details about this academic publication, you can find here the link below and thank you and see you next time, bye bye.