National Lab on R&I Policies


Objectives of the Lab

In order to fulfil the support required by national and regional authorities and ensure more efficient use of cohesion policy resources in the field of Research and Innovation (R&I), the Territorial Cohesion Agency (ACT) designed and activated a system action named “National Lab for R&I Policies”, within the project “Support for implementation and monitoring of the National S3 and RIS3s” funded with the 2014-2020 Governance and Institutional Capacity NOP.

An initial meeting held in February 2018 with Southern Italy’s Regions highlighted a specific need for coordination in implementing the National S3 and its convergence with the several regional S3s. As such, over time the system action has aimed at fostering exchange of experiences and sharing of proposals between regional administrations and other actors of the innovation ecosystems (businesses, universities, research bodies, but also intermediate players such as clusters, technological districts, and innovation poles) through dedicated analyses and discussions aimed at:

  • Stimulating Regions’ participation in the S3 thematic platforms promoted at EU level to strengthen interregional cooperation. These activities resulted in a Vademecum on Italy’s participation in S3 cooperation networks and in the launch of thematic paths of interregional cooperation;
  • Favouring the systemic monitoring of S3 implementation within the National Monitoring System, with a method proposal and joint activity with administrations and IGRUE, whose final output was the ACT-IGRUE Operational Note on S3 monitoring.

Vademecum on Italy’s participation in S3 cooperation networks

In line with the indications provided by the European Commission, the in-depth study firstly aimed at redeveloping the extent to which Italy’s regional actors are protagonists of cooperation paths within S3 networks, with the ultimate objective of helping develop a shared method to guide the participation of Regions and other innovation actors towards the creation of interregional networks capable of crossing national borders.

To such end, a Vademecum was designed as an output of the collaboration between the Territorial Cohesion Agency, Regions and National Technical Committees, namely an “open” document to be periodically updated.

The debates were held on an ongoing basis since June 2018 through 4 plenary meetings in the framework of SMAU Bologna and Milan and about 240 participants including representatives from all 21 Regions and Autonomous Provinces and other innovation actors, and Joint Research Centre members on two occasions. In July 2020, a first version of the Vademecum was presented, illustrating both the contributions produced remotely by regional administrations and other innovation actors involved, and those that emerged on the occasion of the plenary discussion. This was followed by an update in October 2020 with new regional mapping and further useful matching to select priority themes and actors for developing future S3 international collaboration paths. The updated version of the June 2021 Vademecum (complete with annexes) and the Mapping of actors and relationships related to European Innovation Partnerships can be downloaded.

In June 2021, the document was integrated with the mapping of connections (at the level of thematic fields) of Italian actors, both among themselves and with European partners, highlighting clusters of consolidated relations, network leader subjects, and subjects capable of acting at a territorial level as knowledge and planning “hubs”, as intermediaries between leader subjects and innovation actors who participate in a non-structural manner in network dynamics. A Mapping of actors and relations related to European Innovation Partnerships can be downloaded. A presentation delivered in the framework of ForumPA 2021 is also available.

The first part of the Vademecum presents the outcomes of the mapped participation of Italian Regions in the S3 partnerships promoted by the Joint Research Centre (Agri-food, Energy and Industrial Modernisation) and in the European Strategic Cluster Partnerships for smart specialisation investments platform, as well as the mapped opportunities for international collaboration based on the findings of three analyses carried out by the Agency’s working group. The second part of the document reproduces the logical break-down of the process of participation in the aforementioned partnerships, ranging from identification of specific cooperation objectives to the delivery of the results of the activities concretely carried out.

Thematic interregional cooperation paths

In 2021, joint work paths were promoted between Regions and the National Technology Clusters aimed at promoting greater Italian participation in the partnerships of the European cooperation platforms promoted by the Joint Research Centre in S3 domains and at stimulating more stable collaboration between Italian Regions.

The objective is thus to promote the implementation of international cooperation measures consistently with the guidelines provided by the new Cohesion Policy Regulations for 2021-2027 and able to help Regions, as S3 Authorities, fulfil the “S3 good governance” enabling condition.

Rome, May-July 2021 – Initiative aimed at promoting interregional cooperation measures in S3 domains

On the basis of targeted analyses better described in the Vademecum, the Agency identified some thematic areas as first pilots for S3 partnerships led at European level by Italian Regions: High-Tech Farming, Bio-economy (non-food biomass), Artificial Intelligence. In relation to the themes, the reference National Technical Committees were also identified to involve Regions that have not yet developed cooperation initiatives with other Italian Regions and the rest of Europe, although they have identified innovation trajectories in the 2014-2020 S3 which can be traced back to these partnerships.

The first meeting with Regions and National Technical Committees was held on 10 June 2021, with Lead Regions presenting pilot projects and demo cases related to the three partnerships (Meeting related documents).

On 14 July 2021 a meeting was held to present the EU direct management initiative known as I3 (Interregional, Innovation, Investments) and the Vanguard Initiative, assessed as relevant to strengthen interregional collaboration paths. You can download the Meeting related documents and watch the presentations on the Agency’s Youtube Channel.

On 21 July 2021 the first two in-depth meetings were held on the topics of Bioeconomy and Artificial Intelligence, coordinated by the National Technical Committees and the Lead Regions of the respective European S3 partnerships. The High-Tech Farming meeting was held on 10 September 2021, attended by Regions representatives expressing interest in the path within the survey carried out by the Agency in June 2021, and representatives from innovation entities indicated by the Regions involved (Thematic Meetings documentation).

Insight into Innovation and Bioeconomy

A recent in-depth study concerns the implementation of Bioeconomy trajectories within Smart Specialisation Strategies, which NUVEC 1 presented to the National Bioeconomy Coordination of the Presidency of the Council of Minister last June, followed by an update of October 2020 data on innovation and circular bioeconomy, presented in the “Circular Bioeconomy Taxonomy” Group of the National Committee.

Meeting related documents

S3 implementation: First analysis of bioeconomy and circular economy trajectories

S3 monitoring tools: ACT-IGRUE Operational Note on Smart Specialisation Strategies monitoring

In the 2014-2020 period, Italy chose to undertake a National S3 and 21 Regional S3. In line with relevant EU guidelines, each Region defined its own monitoring system to measure the implementation of the related S3, consistently with the objectives pursued. Heterogeneous institutional and economic realities and consolidated practices impacted policy-making in the different regional realities and consistently influenced their respective S3 implementation (and related monitoring activities) and inclusion in territorial policy agendas.

In this framework, the Territorial Cohesion Agency has so far ensured S3 coordination and monitoring also through original cognitive and analytical tools aimed at enhancing policy action, based on a specific wealth of information and can provide all the necessary knowledge elements to support and qualify S3 implementation.

In particular, the Nucleo di Verifica e Controllo (NUVEC), Sector 1, of the Territorial Cohesion Agency devised various tools aimed at providing an overview of what was being implemented at a territorial level. Among them, in agreement with the State General Accounting Office, NUVEC1 proposed a methodology for identifying, within the National Monitoring System, all the projects funded by EU and national cohesion policies, which contribute to the implementation of national and regional S3s broken down by thematic/specialisation area. The final findings of the work were shared on the occasion of a meeting of the R&I Policy Lab on 1 February 2018 and gave rise to the ACT-IGRUE Note dated 31 October 2018 on “S3 Projects Monitoring” and its Annexes [1].

Annex I to the Operational Note reports the thematic areas of the National S3 and their respective trajectories, while Annex II describes regional S3 domains and development trajectories identified by Regions for each area. Annex II results from extensive work coordinated by NUVEC and carried out with relevant regional administrations within the R&I Lab to connect the several heterogeneous specialisation areas of regional S3 with 12 areas identified by the 2015-2017 National Reform Programme (Agri-food, Health, Energy and Environment, Smart Manufacturing, Living Environment Technologies, Cultural Heritage Technologies, Sea Economy, Green Chemistry, Sustainable Mobility, Aerospace, Design, Creativity and Made in Italy, Smart and Inclusive Communities)[2].

Thanks to the contribution of all administrations, we now have a wealth of important knowledge for measuring S3 implementation in relation to the thematic priorities identified. More specifically, the minimum level of available information concerns individual development trajectories of the 5 specialisation areas of the National S3 and the 12 specialisation areas of regional S3s [3]. The National Monitoring System also provides an overview of the typologies of projects in each specialisation area and thus of the innovation potential at territorial level, as well as sharing comparable information on the 21 regional S3s, to support cooperation between administrations and stakeholders, S3 review activities and benchmarking analyses. The National Monitoring System is also the basis for evaluation activities and in-depth analysis of the types of enterprises per thematic area, their demand for innovation and development trajectories at territorial level.

In sum, within the current programming period the adoption of the NUVEC-IGRUE methodological approach by public authorities provides for:

  1. An overview, for each specialisation area, of the type of projects funded by the National S3 and the 21 regional S3s, with comparable data between Regions broken down by specialisation area not previously available;
  2. The delivery of comparable information on the 21 regional S3 in terms of types of enterprises, demand for innovation, and territorial development trajectories;
  3. The knowledge, broken down by area, required for policy orientation at sectoral level in the 12 specialisation areas of the national production system (Agri-food, Health, Energy and Environment, Smart Manufacturing, Living Environment Technologies, Cultural Heritage Technologies, Sea Economy, Green Chemistry, Sustainable Mobility, Aerospace, Design, Creativity and Made in Italy, Smart and Inclusive Communities);
  4. The possibility to support policy decisions on the definition of appropriate instruments aimed at strengthening the innovative capacity and competitiveness of enterprises at national and territorial level.

[1] The Operational Note and its Annexes are available on the website of the Territorial Cohesion Agency at

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

[3] Each Administration is required to enter the project financed in implementation of the S3 under 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 for the National S3 and the various regional S3s