#ResponsibleRegions dialogue – Innovation Policy Labs: the example of smart grids in Valencia

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#ResponsibleRegions dialogue – Innovation Policy Labs: the example of smart grids in Valencia

In the framework of TeRRItoria, the sixth #ResponsibleRegions dialogue was held on the 15th of April 2021. The topic for this instalment was the creation of a methodology with RRI keys in creating Innovation Policy Labs that gather Quadruple Helix stakeholders. Academics and experts on economic development discussed the implementation of responsible research and innovation in practice with Ms Vicen Carbonnell of the Regional Government of Valencia, Spain. 

Sonia Tirado, General Director of Innovation at the Regional Government of Valencia, introduced our main speaker’s intervention by presenting the future objectives of the Valencian Regional Government related to S3 and these Innovation Policy Labs, which are closely linked to updating them for the 21-27 timeframe and the Covid and post-Covid contexts, as well as being competitive in strategic sectors such as energy, in part thanks to tools like the Innovation Policy Labs. 

Ms Carbonell began her intervention by presenting her region and then the principles of the Innovation Policy Labs. These working groups are made of participants from all the four corners of the Quadruple Helix framework for innovation, namely: regional governments agents (with competences related to the subject of the lab), private companies, knowledge agents (universities, technology centres) and civil society agents (NGOs, civil society groups). The idea behind it is to involve these labs directly as a part of the society and assume responsibility and social solutions to issues that directly concern them. 

The process and methodology for the labs have been thoroughly developed by the regional government and put together in a methodology document that will be used by the next wave of labs that will be created in order for them to run as smoothly as the one that did before. 

The process is based on first the identification of the challenges by a seed group, that will then prioritise them before calling for other stakeholders to participate in working groups by project for the project identification and development phases. This lab organisation allows for a better understanding of how social problems impact society and how to treat them. 

The actions undertaken by the lab have an impact on the institutional scope as well as the scientific-technological field. These actions have the objective of to making legislative mechanisms more agile, clearing out regulatory aspects, defining public policies, establishing best practices, and modifying the scope of the calls for aid. In the scientific field, they aim to promote the development of public-private projects, demonstrator centres, innovations hubs, to improve the skills and training capabilities, as well as establishing best practices. 

Vicen concluded her intervention by insisting on the importance of knowledge transfer, as in enriching the process by sharing information and knowledge to adapt to local business needs. The labs are also a way to create new opportunities in the region, as new business models emerge for innovative products and processes, as well as creating new skills. She also insisted on the creation of synergies through the participation of Quadruple Helix stakeholders, in a way that emphasise coordination and collaboration to refocus the industrial process. It is also important to keep these labs as a dynamic model, open to evolution and changes that can keep the process alive, improve participation, boost private investments and change innovation policies. 

Finally, a very interesting point for the audience and any local or regional decision-maker is that this methodology is compiled into a methodological guide that greatly boosts replicability and serves as a model for other regions interested in these types of processes. 

Following the presentation, the interventions of our two panellists allowed for interesting exchanges. First MJerker Johnson, Coordinator of International Affairs for the Finnish Region of Ostrobothnia presented his comments on the Region of Valencia’s approach. He stated that he found the governance model to be lacking in some points, as for the stakeholder selection process, where vested interest may derail the process and there might be cases of “institutional exhaustion” preventing the labs to be completely efficient. This discussion concluded on the importance of acting on discoveries and “strong examples” being a good method to allow that. 

Finally, Isabelle Seigneur, Project Officer at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre Territorial Development Unit made her own intervention. She put forward the change context and the stronger attention of the society and policy makers for the challenges and changes that are taking place. Isabelle said that the examples such as the one of the Innovation Labs have really succeeded in becoming an instrument of participation and continuous analysis that the other regions can follow. 

These different exchanges allowed for Vicen to conclude on the essentiality of maintaining the commitment of the regional government and to emphasise the importance of developing their guide being a tool to ensure it is the case and the Labs work as well in the future. 

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