Smart Specialisation with Smart Clusters

The S3-Innovation Model - Transformative Activities for Regional Development

The S3-Innovation Model introduces a systematic process for the identification, development and implementation of transformative activities. It offers a set of tools for cluster initiatives and regions to explore capacities and opportunities for transformation and to develop actions to create critical mass in innovative new fields.

You will find detailed information on the conceptual background, the process and the tools of the S3-Innovation Model in the sections below.  

A complete overview of the S3-Innovation Model will be available in the final publication of the project.

Discover the final publication: Smart Specialisation Strategies with Smart Clusters - A New Approach to Generating Transformative Activities.

An Overview in Videos

Michael Keller, Lead Partner, comments on the S3-4AlpClusters project and its main output, the S3-Innovation Model, in a short interview at the University of Padova: Interview Michael Keller
Jacques Bersier, Lead Partner, interviews Prof. Dominique Foray (EPFL) on the general concept of the S3-4AlpClusters project: Interview Dominique Foray.

Introduction - A New Focus on Transformative Activities in S3

Smart Specialization Strategies (S3)

The challenge at the heart of Smart Specialization Strategies (S3) approach is the need for regions to use their limited resources effectively to define the right strategic priorities to become and remain competitive in the global economy.  Regions should aim at tapping into opportunities for transformation to meet structural challenges by combining their existing capacities into unique innovative activities (smart specialisation). Opportunities for transformation are critical in the S3 framework. Regional competitive advantage is created when opportunities for transformation are exploited by regions to combine their existing capacities into unique new domains. As an ultimate goal, these activities in new domains of opportunities should translate into structural transformation within the economy.

What is a Transformative Activity?

Transformative Activities can be understood as a collection of innovation capacities and actions of a group of actors, derived from an innovative combination of existing structures, targeting related areas and having the potential to significantly transform existing industries. They provide huge potential for regions to develop and ultimately to create jobs in innovative new fields with high growth potential.

Why Transformative Activities?

Smart Specialization Strategies are an innovative policy idea made in the EU, which has been very rapidly translated into implementation within the framework of European regional policies. So rapidly indeed, that it does not come as a surprise if we note that putting the concepts into practice went along with a series of implementation challenges. A common challenge in S3 implementation is to avoid defining priorities too broadly and concentrating excessively on already existing regional specializations, rather than on new opportunities for cross-sectoral combinations and real transformation.

The S3-Innovation Model contributes to overcoming this challenge by focusing the S3 process on transformative activities:  S3 can be described as regional strategies aiming at transforming the economic structures of a region through the identification, development and implementation of transformative activities, based on a reflection about existing capacities on the one hand and opportunities for change on the other. Hence, regional implementation of S3 ultimately consists of two fundamental practical aspects: on the one hand the identification of the innovation capacities through which opportunities for structural change can be tackled, and on the other hand the definition of actions to develop these activities in a given region.

An Example

Imagine an alpine region with strong traditional resources in the tourism and hospitality sector. Its higher education and research ecosystem might have developed significant capacities in information and communication technologies, paralleled by a dynamic cluster of ICT start-ups building up entrepreneurial resources in the field. An analysis of recent developments in consumer behavior of tourists and the technological trends in digitisation might reveal significant opportunities to transform both the ICT ecosystem and the tourism industry in the region. In an effort to seize these opportunities, it would seem interesting for the region to valorise the combination of existing structures and formulate a strategy to specialize in the development of digital services for tourism. To reach that goal, the strategy needs to address the development of concrete actions - R&D projects, networking activities or development of critical skills for and between the actors that have the innovation capacities to contribute to the development of digital services for tourism

What this simple example shows is that the implementation of S3 requires more than the definition of broad priority areas. In its effort for smart specialization the region needs to identify and develop a transformative activity. The transformative activity in question would neither be the tourism sector nor the ICT sector as such, but the collection of innovation capacities from groups of companies, suppliers and research partners associated with these existing sectors and the concrete actions they need to undertake to specialise in digital services for tourism.

More Information

Keller, M. and Bersier, J. (Eds.). (2019). Smart Specialisation Strategies with Smart Clusters - A New Approach to Generating Transformative Activities. Fulltext available: Download the book

Keller, M., Reingruber, I., Dermastia, M., Bersier, J. and Meier zu Köcker, G. (2018).  Smart Specialization Strategies (S3) and Clusters – An Innovation Model for Transformative Activities. Working Paper HES-SO//FR HEIA FR / Business Upper Austria / Anteja / ClusterAgentur. Fulltext available:  https://hesso.tind.io//record/2860/?ln=en

S3-4AlpClusters (2018). Policy Memo - The S3 Innovation Model. Download: Policy Memo

Process and Tools of the S3-Innovation Model

Discover the action lines of the S3-Innovation Model in the sections below. You can also take a tour through the complete process in the video on our YouTube Channel: The S3-Innovation Model (Video Presentation and Comments by Prof. Dominique Foray, EPFL).

Base of Evidence

Base of Evidence

Generating a base of evidence based on qualitative and quantitative analytics is needed to guide the entrepreneurial discovery process. At this stage, the S3-Innovation Model promotes three main tools: Guidance on quantitative and qualitative analysis, a StressTest to systematically analyse the role of clusters in the implementation of regional strategies, and S3-Synergy Diamonds, an innovative methodology representing existing capacities in a way that facilitates the identification of transformative activities and captures opportunities for need-based interregional cooperation.

Training Tools

Download the Training Tool: Quantitative and Qualitative Analysis

Download the Training Tool: StressTest

Download the Training Tool: S3-Synergy Diamonds

More Information

Meier zu Köcker, G., Dermastia, M. and Keller, M. (2017). Strategic Alpine Space Areas for Cross-regional Cooperation. Interreg Alpine Space – S3-4AlpClusters. Download: Meier zu Köcker et al. (2017).

Meier zu Köcker, G. and Dermastia, M. (2017). StressTesting Regional Approaches Conducive to Implement S3 through Clusters. Interreg Alpine Space – S3-4AlpClusters. Download: Meier zu Köcker and Dermastia (2017)

S3-4AlpClusters (2017). Policy Memo -  First Findings of Alpine Space Stress Testing Approaches conducive to Implement Smart Specialisation Strategies through Clusters. Download: Policy Memo


Identification of Transformative Activities

Transformative activities are identified in Entrepreneurial Discovery Workshops (EDW) based on a reflection about existing capacities on the one hand and opportunities represented by new technologies and challenges that can support and drive the process of structural transformation on the other. This includes an assessment of existing critical mass and detecting and specifying needs for cross-regional cooperation. If necessary, cross-regional Entrepreneurial Discovery Workshops (cEDW) then propose a methodology allowing to identify complementary competences and needs from several regions and to identify transformative activities that can be developed cross-regionally.

More Information

Foray, D., Keller, M., Bersier, J. and Meier zu Köcker, G. (2018). Transformative Activities for Smart Specialisation: Considerations on a Workshop Methodology. Working Paper EPFL, HES-SO//FR HEIA-FR, ClusterAgentur. Fulltext available: https://hesso.tind.io//record/2759?ln=en


Development of Transformative Activities

Action Development Workshops (ADW) allow working out concrete actions - such as R&D projects, networking, cooperation schemes or development of critical skills – in order to gain critical mass for the identified transformative activities, both regionally and cross-regionally (cADW). The S3-Innovation Model specifically supports cross-regional action development through a proposal for an interregional funding scheme: the Alpine Cluster Innovation Express (ACIE) aims at synchronizing existing funds from several regions who intend to support the development of the same transformative activities.

Training Tools

More Information

Foray, D., Keller, M., Bersier, J. and Meier zu Köcker, G. (2018). Transformative Activities for Smart Specialisation: Considerations on a Workshop Methodology. Working Paper EPFL, HES-SO//FR HEIA-FR, ClusterAgentur. Fulltext available: https://hesso.tind.io//record/2759?ln=en.  

Reingruber, I. et al. (2019). Final recommendation report on cluster services. Interreg Alpine Space – S3-4AlpClusters. Download: Reingruber et al. (2019).

Meier zu Köcker, G., Dermastia, M., Keller, M. and Bersier, J. (2018).  Alpine Cluster Innovation Express (ACIE) -  Proposal for a Cross-regional Scheme to Support the Development of Transformative Activities in the Alpine Space. Download: Meier zu Köcker et al. (2018)


Implementation of Transformative Activities

The S3-Innovation Model supports implementation of the developed actions to create critical mass through cluster initiatives with a Transformative Activity Cluster Toolbox (TACT). Since both the identified transformative activities and the concrete developed actions are unknown ex ante, TACT consists of a broad set of best practices of cluster services covering transversal fields such as education, technology, growth, research or collaboration. Clusters typically reflect strong partnerships, vibrant communities and relevant connections between related businesses, suppliers and associated institutions.

The Cluster Toolbox (TACT)

The Transformative Activity Cluster Toolbox is composed of two main inputs:

1) Based on a survey of cluster initiatives from the participating regions (download: Antonioni et al. (2018a)), 23 best practices of cluster services currently offered by cluster initiatives from the Alpine Space have been selected to be included in the TACT of the S3-Innovation Model. 
Download: TACT - 23 Best Practices from the Alpine Space 

2) The 23 selected best practices were used as an input in a series of workshops with cluster managers in all participating regions to develop ideas for innovative new services to support the implementation of transformative activities (download the workshop report: Antonioni et al. (2018b)). 14 of these new cluster services have been selected to be included in the TACT of the S3-Innovation Model.
Download: TACT - 14 New Cluster Services

Training Tool

Download the Training Tool: Transformative Activity Cluster Toolbox (TACT)

More Information

Antonioni, S., Mion, L., Keller, M. and Bersier, J. (2018). Good Practice Report. Interreg Alpine Space – S3-4AlpClusters. Download: Antonioni et al. (2018a)

Antonioni, S., Mion, L. and Keller, M. (2018).  Regional Approaches to Implement S3 through Clusters - Cluster Workshop Synopsis Report. Interreg Alpine Space – S3-4AlpClusters. Download: Antonioni et al. (2018b)


Evaluation of the Process

The S3-Innovation Model includes an evaluation toolbox (TAET) to support the formative evaluation and monitoring of the process, emphasising the roles and contributions of cluster initiatives.

The Evaluation Toolbox (TAET)

Download the complete Evaluation Toolbox: TAET.

Training Tool

Download the Training Tool: Evaluation Toolbox (TAET)

More Information

Handler, R., Weiss, S., Gruber, M., Dermastia, M. and Meier zu Köcker, G. (2019). Evaluation of the interplay between S3 and Clusters - Evaluation Toolbox.  Interreg Alpine Space – S3-4AlpClusters. Download: Handler et al. (2019)