Growth intelligence: rethinking regional development

Articulating lessons learned from the financial crisis, the European Union’s Europe 2020 strategy calls for “smart, sustainable, inclusive” growth. With ‘knowledge and innovation’ topping the European Council’s list of resources for boosting competitiveness, policy makers will appreciate the timely suggestions offered by EURODITE, a multinational research project which has spent five years investigating the dynamics of Europe’s knowledge economy from a regional perspective. The project, which presented its final results in Brussels on 6 and 7 May 2010, has yielded a wealth of new information on the subject and produced a set of valuable policy recommendations.

After examining regional development policies in 22 EU Member States and conducting numerous case studies, the EURODITE consortium has suggested a fresh approach to knowledge-based economic development, one that begins by recognising that many forms of knowledge are inherently mobile while policies tend to have geographical limits. To counter this discrepancy, policy makers are urged to think outside organisational boundaries of the ‘old industrial society’ and promote innovation by connecting knowledge bases from different technological, sectoral and regional contexts. Relying on traditional development policies alone, the consortium warns, could result in an “inward-looking path dependency” that undermines success in the long run.

Aiding Europe’s quest to develop a more viable knowledge economy, EURODITE offers a series of conceptual and practical recommendations. One of the project’s main ideas is built around a process the consortium calls ‘knowledge anchoring’. This involves knowledge coming into a region from outside and then being absorbed and re-circulated among firms and institutions within the region. A complex and continuous process, anchoring incorporates the twin activities of searching for knowledge (exploration) and sharing it. Ultimately, a few of the actors who share the knowledge should then succeed in exploiting it. Anchoring, however, is not a passive activity. An active agent or ‘broker’ is needed to set the process in motion, cultivate networks and keep things flowing. EURODITE sees a key role for knowledge brokers in regional development policy.

‘Combinatory’ knowledge also figures prominently in the consortium’s new-knowledge economic model. Here, policy makers and firms are challenged to be more imaginative in combining various types of knowledge. Linking up bits of analytical, research-based knowledge will not be sufficient to assure Europe’s competitiveness, the researchers argue. One should explore the merits of marrying more diverse kinds of codified knowledge (that which can be written down) and tacit knowledge (that embodied in people and articulated in skills). Moreover, EURODITE stresses the value of symbolic knowledge (e.g. the styling of a product or organisation in an appealing way).

The consortium also identifies a pressing need to address gender issues. Here, policies should aim to influence a wider range of knowledge by recognising that the so-called 'gender-neutral' policies are in fact 'gender-blind' and they thus do not promote inclusion. Policy makers are urged to open their minds to the economic potential of ‘combinatorial’ knowledge.

Looking ahead, EURODITE emphasises the evolutionary nature of knowledge development and suggests that policy makers consider the virtues of evidence-based policy making. To this end, the consortium recommends the creation of regional knowledge observatories. These centres would monitor knowledge-related capacities and needs, identifying bottlenecks and spotting trends. The data could then be collated, analysed and shared for mutual economic benefit.

These are just a few of the many interesting ideas put forth and discussed at EURODITE’S final conference in Brussels. Held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the European Association of Development Agencies (EURADA), the event brought together a diverse range of stakeholders from the knowledge economy. Representatives of EURODITE’s 28-partner consortium presented their findings to regional development representatives from all over Europe. Panel sessions included contributions from the OECD, the European Investment Bank and various parts of the European Commission.

Pierre Valette from the Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities area of the Directorate General for Research recognised EURODITE as a ‘best-practice’ project example. Demonstrating exceptional effort to address the needs of the policy making community, the consortium won particular praise for its publication: ‘Knowledge Dynamics, Regional Development and Public Policy’. The 124-page booklet is expected to be available soon on the EURODITE website: http://www.eurodite.bham.ac.uk

EURODITE - Regional Trajectories to the Knowledge Economy: A Dynamic Model (duration: 1/9/2005 – 31/8/2010) was an Integrated Project funded under the 6th Framework Programme for Research of the European Union, Thematic Priority 7 – Citizens and governance in a knowledge-based society.

See: http://www.eurodite.bham.ac.uk

Contact: Stewart MacNeill, s.macneill@bham.ac.uk