Following a successful conference in Athens in 2014, the 2015 edition of the week of innovative regions in Europe (Wire) heads north to Riga. This year the focus will be on smart specialisation and the challenges faced by regions in its implementation.
All EU regions are required to have a smart specialisation strategy which identifies their comparative advantages and supports a concentration of investment on a limited number of priorities. Most regions have now completed their strategies and the emphasis has now moved to three areas.
The first area is the governance of the strategy. Smart specialisation strategies are new for most regions and therefore regions have developed different governance systems for implementing strategies.
As a result, there is a lot interest in comparing governance systems and evaluating how far they are exportable. The Wire conference will give regions the opportunity to question whether they could implement other regions' systems.
The second area is the discussion on synergies. There is now much more attention on using smart specialisation strategies as way of developing synergies between the main regional funding programmes - structural funds - and research and innovation funds.
While the former are allocated to and managed by regions, the latter remain competitive and usually require consortia from outside the region and the member state.
Therefore, the challenge for most regions is how to maximise the use of both funding instruments. Again, this will be a key topic for this year's conference.
The third area of interest, and possibly off the radar for many regions, is the monitoring and evaluation of smart specialisation strategies.
Monitoring will require a stronger focus on impact rather than accounting for spending. There is a great deal of interest - not to say fear - in this topic and regions will be looking for good advice and ideas.
One of the strengths of smart specialisation was that it pushed regions to look both internally and externally to assess their comparative advantages.
Gaining information and expertise from outside the region is a key factor in a successful analysis of regional potential, but external contacts play an even stronger role in developing international cooperation and international value chains.
Wire will highlight some good examples of regions working together to align policies, activities and funding, such as the Vanguard initiative, bringing together more than 20 regions in the sector of advanced manufacturing.
Other EU initiatives, such the knowledge and innovation communities, can also play a strong role in supporting interregional cooperation and helping regional stakeholders move from 'contact to contract'.
The conference will be more than smart specialisation. There will be sessions on big data and developing the quadruple helix which will play into the increasing interest on open science.
All these topics support the key interest of the discussions, which is regions exchanging information and learning from one another and building long-lasting partnerships.
The importance of Wire is emphasised by the fact that this year's edition will be opened by Latvia's education and science minister and attended by European research and innovation commissioner Carlos Moedas, as well as Committee of the Regions president Markku Markkula.
Also present will be high-level MEPs, regional policymakers, academics and commission staff.
The forum remains a key event in the regional calendar, as it is one of the few European conferences that starts from the regional perspective and is aimed at developing regional knowledge and expertise. It is therefore good to know that the 2016 edition will be in the city of Eindhoven.