National Lab on R&I Policies



To respond to the need for support expressed by regional and national Administrations, and ensure a more efficient use of Cohesion Policy resources in the field of Research and Innovation, in 2018 the Territorial Cohesion Agency designed and activated a system action a.k.a. “National Lab on Research and Innovation Policies” within the Project “Support to the implementation and monitoring of the National S3 and of RIS3s” funded by the “PON Governance e Capacità Istituzionale 2014-2020” (

The first meeting with Southern Italy’s Regions, held at the Agency on 1 February 2018, highlighted a marked need for coordination in the implementation of the National Smart Specialisation Strategy (S3) and its convergence with the numerous regional S3s.

To such end, the 2018-2020 focus lied in facilitating dialogue between regional administrations and other active players in the innovation ecosystems (enterprises, universities and research bodies, as well as intermediate players such as clusters, technological districts, innovation poles and public-private laboratories) through dedicated analyses and meetings. Ad-hoc paths were also defined for administrations in charge of R&I funds to:

  • Promote smart specialisation thematic platforms to strengthen inter-regional cooperation, which resulted in the Vademecum on Italy’s participation in S3 cooperation networks;
  • Ensure enhanced monitoring of projects via the National Monitoring System, based on a proposed method and joint activity with relevant administrations and IGRUE. The final output was the ACT-IGRUE Operational Note on S3 monitoring.

Vademecum on Italy’s participation within S3 cooperation networks

Based on European Commission inputs, the in-depth study produced by the Lab firstly aimed at reconstructing the extent to which Italian regional actors lead cooperation paths within S3 networks, ultimately promoting a shared method to guide Regions’ participation and other innovation actors towards the creation of interregional networks going beyond national borders.

To such end, a Vademecum was devised as a result of close collaboration between the Territorial Cohesion Agency, Regions and national technological clusters. The systematic preparatory work was carried out since June 2018 through four plenary meetings related to initiatives such as SMAU Bologna and Milan: about 240 participants, including delegates from all 21 Regions and Autonomous Provinces, other innovation actors and, on two occasions, Joint Research Centre representatives.

The Vademecum summarises both the contributions produced remotely by regional administrations and other innovation actors involved and those arisen during plenary debates.

The first part of the document illustrates the results of the mapping of Italian regions’ participation in S3 partnerships promoted by the Joint Research Centre (Agri-food, Energy and Industrial Innovation) and in the European Strategic Cluster Platform “Partnerships for Smart Specialisation Investments”, as well as a mapping of international collaboration opportunities based on two distinct analyses carried out by the Agency’s working group. The second part of the document reproduces the logical pattern of the process of participation in the mentioned partnerships, from identifying specific cooperation objectives to reporting the results attained.

The Vademecum, presented in its first version in July 2020, was updated in October 2020 with new regional mapping and additional matching that may help select priority themes and actors in the development of future S3 international cooperation paths.

S3 monitoring tools: ACT-IGRUE Operational Note on S3 monitoring

In the 2014-2020 period, Italy undertook to adopt a National S3 Strategy and 21 Regional S3s. In line with EU guidelines, each Region defined its own monitoring system to measure S3 implementation consistently with the specific objectives pursued. Heterogeneous institutional and economic realities and consolidated policy-making practices consistent with regional realities strongly influenced the way S3s (and their monitoring) were implemented and encompassed in territorial policy agendas.

In this framework, the Territorial Cohesion Agency has so far ensured S3 coordination and monitoring and devised original cognitive and analytical tools aimed at making the policy action more effective – drawing upon a specific set of information and providing all the necessary knowledge to support and qualify S3 implementation.

NUVEC 1 (Nucleo di Verifica e Controllo at the Territorial Cohesion Agency) devised several tools to provide an overview of the initiatives implemented at territorial level. In agreement with the State General Accounting Department (RGS), NUVEC proposed a methodology to identify, within the National Monitoring System, all Cohesion Policy projects (EU and national resources) that contribute to implementing national and regional S3s, broken down by thematic/specialisation area. The results of the study were shared at the 1 February 2018 meeting of the R&I Policy Lab and reported in the Agency-IGRUE Operational Note dated 31 October 2018 “Monitoring of Smart Specialisation Strategy (S3) Projects” and its annexes.[1]

Annex I to the Operational Note lists the thematic areas of the National S3 and their respective trajectories, while Annex II describes regional S3s and development trajectories identified by single regions for each area. Annex II is the result of an extensive work coordinated by NUVEC and carried out with regional administrations within the R&I Lab to connect the numerous and heterogeneous specialisation areas of regional S3s with the 12 areas identified by the 2015-2017 National Reform Plan (Aerospace; Agri-food; Cultural Heritage; Blue Growth; Green Chemistry; Design, Creativity and Made in Italy; Energy; Smart Manufacturing; Sustainable Mobility; Health; Smart, Secure and Inclusive Communities; Technologies for Living Environments) [2].

Thanks to the work carried out with all relevant administrations, we now can rely on extensive knowledge to measure S3 implementation in relation to the thematic priorities identified. More specifically, the minimum level of available information concerns the single development trajectories of the five specialisation areas of the National S3 and the 12 specialisation areas of Regional S3s[3].

The National Monitoring System also provides an overview of projects in each specialisation area (hence of innovation potentials at territorial level), and comparable information on the 21 Regional S3s to support cooperation between administrations and stakeholders, S3 review activities, and benchmarking analyses. The National Monitoring System furthermore supports evaluation activities and in-depth analysis of enterprises per thematic area, their demand for innovation, and their development trajectories at territorial level.

In synthesis, within the current programming period the NUVEC-IGRUE methodological approach enables Administrations to:

  1. Provide an overview of projects financed by the national S3 and the 21 regional S3s, with unprecedented comparable data across regions, itemised by specialisation area;
  2. Report comparable information on the 21 regional S3s in terms of types of enterprises, demand for innovation, and territorial development trajectories;
  3. Provide the necessary knowledge, broken down by area, for policy orientation at sector level in the 12 specialisation areas of the national production system (Aerospace; Agri-food; Cultural Heritage; Blue Growth; Green Chemistry; Design, Creativity and Made in Italy; Energy; Smart Manufacturing; Sustainable Mobility; Health; Smart, Secure and Inclusive Communities; Technologies for Living Environments);
  4. Support policy decisions for defining appropriate instruments to support enterprises’ innovative capacity and competitiveness at national and territorial level.

[1] The Operational Note and its annexes are available at

[2] Overall, the 21 regional S3s encompass 84 specialisation areas, with more than 800 development trajectories.

[3] Each Administration is required to classify the project financed for S3 implementation with a single “Classification Code” among those relating to its region. In addition, after the classification and data entry process, NUVEC periodically checks the monitoring data on the National S3 and the regional S3s.​

Analyses and meetings

The Lab has already held several meetings and performed in-depth analyses:

In-depth study on Innovation and Bioeconomy

A recent in-depth study concerns the implementation of bioeconomy trajectories in the context of S3s, which NUVEC1 presented to the National Bioeconomy Coordination of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers in June 2020, followed by an update in October 2020 on innovation and circular bioeconomy, presented within the “Circular Bioeconomy Taxonomy” Group of the above National Committee.