Guiding discovery; How knowledge development and innovation strategies are directed by the regional context
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Regional policy makers struggle in designing effective bottom-up and mission-oriented innovation policies that are embedded in their territorial context. Knowledge development has proven to be fundamental in these innovation dynamics and is said to be evolving in relation to the regional knowledge capabilities and institutional context. Therefore, this study aims to find how specific attributes of the regional knowledge base and institutional context relate to knowledge development in European regions and how these dynamics shape a region’s prioritisation strategy in the RIS3 program of the European Union. This is done from a scientific knowledge perspective, as this provides insight in the fundamental regional capabilities from which economic and societal goals can be addressed. A series of quantitative analyses showed that the related diversification opportunities provided by the regional knowledge base, quality of government and institutional thickness have a positive relation to complex knowledge development. These results confirm the expectation that both the regional knowledge capabilities and the institutional context are instrumental in knowledge development dynamics. In the RIS3 program, a thematic approach might be advised for socially relevant topics, since the overrepresentation of priorities in green technology and health might hamper the alignment with the regional context. However, it was shown that in general regions are able to prioritise according to knowledge base capabilities in terms of strategy complexity and relatedness. Furthermore, it was found that the regional representation of the higher education sector positively influences strategy complexity and that the ability of the government to connect to regional actors enhances the strategy relatedness. These results did not show that regions currently utilise the option to integrate diversity in the prioritisation strategy, while this could be a viable option, to improve future diversification capabilities, especially for lagging regions. Lastly, as expected, advanced regions were found to possess the most capabilities in the subjected institutional features related to prioritisation. However, intermediate regions were found to possess promising institutional capabilities as well and even the lagging regions showed a few institutional features which might provide some perspective in future smart specialisation efforts. To conclude, by recognizing the fundamental role that knowledge and institutional elements play in both knowledge development and innovation policy, more effectively designed territorial innovation strategies can be developed.