Embed policy instruments in an innovation strategy

Developing a strategy for cross-border innovation is an important step. Cross-border projects usually begin on a bottom-up basis without data and preliminary analysis regarding the most fruitful areas for collaboration. When cross-border innovation instruments are implemented, it is useful to gather evidence to assess the merits of nurturing further private and public initiatives. The case studies reveal a wide range of progress in the different elements of the policy approach for regional innovation support on a cross-border basis. This includes exchange of data and information, experimenting with some one-off programmes, opening programmes to allow collaboration with firms or universities located across the border, or developing a more comprehensive strategic innovation policy approach for the cross-border area (Table 3.1).

Table 3.1. Cross-border regional innovation policy approach

Element of policy mix



Mutual exchange of data, actor mappings and policy information


Ad hoc and temporary common initiatives without joint funding


Mutual opening of programmes or structures across borders - no joint funding

Joint actions (narrow)

Limited cross-border measures, structures and actions with joint funding by actors from several regions

Joint actions (broad)

Multiple joint instruments co-funded by the constituting regions

Strategic policy mix

Joint common strategy adopted at the level of the cross-border area, translated into a common policy mix co-funded by all constituting regions

The development of a strategic policy mix with jointly funded programmes, the most intense form of collaboration, may not be possible in some areas. Often the complexity of governance arrangements renders it so costly to develop that less formalised approaches are required. This may be due to a difference in innovation policy competences (one region has power to make the decision, the other region does not), or the sheer number of public partners. The variable geometry associated with the different innovation needs, such as by sector or technology, can also make this strategic policy mix simply not relevant for all sub-areas to engage in to the same degree.

However, some mechanism for informing each other’s respective strategies can help embed the different actions into a strategic framework. For example, the TTR-ELAt region has focused its joint efforts on the three fields of strength throughout the cross-border area (to different degrees). The upcoming regional innovation strategy for the Nord-Pas de Calais Region of France explicitly acknowledges the importance of linkages with its neighbours in Belgium. At the national level, the Department of the Taoiseach in Ireland and the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills in the United Kingdom sets out current and future opportunities for collaboration between the two countries. The report makes specific recommendations in the area of R&D and innovation, recognising the important Ireland-Northern Ireland dimension given the geographical proximity of institutions and their research communities (PA Consulting, 2013).

Opening eligibility of programmes to cross-border actors is a way to “mainstream” the cross-border element into existing instruments. Such a mainstreamed approach has several advantages. First, it means that cross-border efforts are valued and not simply part of a special side project. Second, it can potentially increase considerably the funding for developing these cross-border relationships. Often the cross-border efforts are restricted to a limited budget for experimentation, but this is only a small fraction of the amounts devoted to innovation policy instruments more generally. Such a mainstreaming approach also reduces the proliferation of public programmes that can be confusing for firms to navigate, as well as reducing the unnecessary duplication of public investments.

There are a wide range of instruments to support innovation in cross-border areas. A broad approach to innovation implies that such instruments should go beyond the science and technology policy domain. Instruments to promote innovation in knowledge-intensive business services are often related to framework conditions and the presence of skilled workers. Several cluster efforts are also trying to better engage service firms in the context of more open and user-driven innovation approaches. Many common innovation policy instruments can include a cross-border element (Table 3.2). Each instrument has certain advantages, but also barriers (Table 3A1.1 provides a summary by instrument).

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