This guide has been conceived as a methodological guidance for policy-makers and implementing bodies on how to prepare for and how to design, draft and implement a national/regional research and innovation strategy for smart specialisation (RIS3).

Rather than an all-encompassing, prescriptive document, the guide is to be understood as a general orientation document which will evolve as the concept develops. Indeed, the document will be improved and updated on a regular basis.

Most of the concepts developed here are based on the previous experience that the European Commission has gained over the years by working with the regions through initiatives such as STRIDE and the PRAIS, as well as the former RIS. It also gained from comparative studies by the OECD in this field.

This guide intends to highlight new features and aspects that improve the previous knowledge and make innovation strategies and policies more effective. Countries and regions that already have gained experience in designing and implementing innovation strategies should now support activities for revisiting and upgrading them, while for the others the challenge is to engage in this process and develop their own innovation strategies for smart specialisation.

Part I of the guide defines the policy context of smart specialisation. Part II presents the concept, its rationale and economic fundamentals. In particular, it addresses the issue of the entrepreneurial process of discovery, which is a key feature of smart specialisation, and provides guidance on how to develop distinctive and original areas of specialisation.

The guide sets out a number of practical steps to design a national/regional RIS3, namely:

1. the analysis of the national/regional context and potential for innovation,

2. the set-up of a sound and inclusive governance structure,

3. the production of a shared vision about the future of the country/region,

4. the selection of a limited number of priorities for national/regional development,

5. the establishment of suitable policy mixes, and

6. the integration of monitoring and evaluation mechanisms.

These steps are presented in Part III and further detailed and developed in Annex I. The guide also presents, in Annex II, an array of delivery instruments at the disposal of national and regional policy makers for the development of the strategy and also advice on horizontal approaches, such as sustainable growth, social innovation and skills development. The document contains examples of different experiences on the development of innovation strategies.

Consistently, this guide is to be interpreted as the 'trunk' establishing the skeleton structure from which a number of 'branches' develop and grow. These branches are delivery instruments and  horizontal approaches. These were identified in Annex II based on their relevance for Structural Funds co-financing, and in particular for the ERDF and the ESF.

Finally, those who are interested in self-assessing their RIS3 process and strategy should be interested in Annex III, which offers a fiche with relevant questions. The elaboration of the guide has been channeled through the Smart Specialisation Platform (S3 Platform). This platform was created by the European Commission in 2011 to provide assistance to Member States and regions in developing and reviewing their national/regional RIS3 strategies.1

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