National Lab on R&I Policies



To fulfill the support need conveyed by national and regional public administrations, and ensure more efficient use of Cohesion Policy resources on Research and Innovation (R&I), the Territorial Cohesion Agency (ACT) designed and activated a system action known as “National Lab for R&I Policies” within the Project “Supporting  national S3 and RIS3 implementation and monitoring”, funded by Italy’s NOP on Governance and Institutional Capacity 2014-2020 (

The opening meeting held in February 2018 with Southern Italy’s Regions highlighted their marked need for coordination as to National S3 (Smart Specialisation Strategy) implementation and its convergence with regional S3s. Dialogue was encouraged between regional administrations and other active players in innovation ecosystems (businesses, universities, research bodies, and intermediate players – e.g. clusters, technological districts, innovation hubs, and public-private labs) through dedicated analyses and meetings aimed at:

  • promoting smart specialisation thematic platforms to enhance inter-regional cooperation. This resulted in a Vademecum on Italy’s participation in S3 cooperation networks – an “open” document constantly being updated with useful analyses and tools for policy makers);
  • encouraging project monitoring within the National Monitoring System, consistently with a proposed method and jointly with relevant Administrations and IGRUE. The final output is the ACT-IGRUE Operational Note on S3 monitoring.

Meetings with Regions and National Technology Clusters (NTCs) are ongoing to enhance national participation in the partnerships linked to European cooperation platforms promoted by the Joint Research Centre on S3s ( and stimulate more stable cooperation between Italian Regions. As S3 Authorities, Regions are required to ensure international cooperation both before and during ERDF Programmes implementation, pursuant to the “S3 good governance” enabling condition.

Vademecum on Italy’s Participation in S3 Cooperation Networks

Devised by the Lab consistently with European Commission indications, the in-depth study firstly aimed at assessing to what extent Italian regional actors lead cooperation paths within S3 networks, to ultimately identify a shared method to guide Regions and other innovation actors in creating interregional networks going beyond national borders.

The Vademecum was the result of close collaboration between the ACT, Regions, and NTCs. Ongoing dialogue and debates were held since June 2018 through four plenary meetings in the frame of “SMAU Bologna and Milan”, with approximately 240 participants from all 21 Regions and Autonomous Provinces, and other innovation actors, and on two occasions from the Joint Research Centre. In July 2020, a first version of the Vademecum illustrated the contributions produced remotely by regional administrations and other innovation actors involved, and the inputs provided during plenary discussions. The October 2020 Update introduced new regional mapping and further matching options to select priority themes and actors in developing future S3 international collaboration paths.

In June 2021, the document was integrated with a thematic mapping of Italian actors’ connections both among themselves and with EU partners, highlighting clusters of consolidated relations, network leaders, potential knowledge and project-designing hubs at territorial level, intermediaries between leading actors and occasional innovation actors (Download the document updated at June 2021).

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.

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.​

Focused Meetings

The Lab has delivered several meetings and in-depth analyses:

Rome, May-June 2021 – Promoting interregional cooperation within S3 domains

To fulfill the “S3 good governance” enabling condition on international cooperation, the ACT has promoted dialogue with Regions and NTCs, sharing information on existing opportunities and activities, and promoting exchange of experiences at an interregional level.

Based on targeted analyses, the ACT has detected pilot thematic areas for ad-hoc collaboration paths by Italian Regions: High-Tech Farming, Bio-economy (non-food biomass), Artificial Intelligence (AI). In line with the themes addressed, identified NCTs are ready to carry out the activities planned, also involving those Regions that have not yet identified, in the 2014-2020 S3, any innovation trajectories connected to their partnerships’ activities.

In line with the indications arising from dialogue with the leading Region on partnerships, the relevant NTC will be called upon to aggregate the interest of those Regions not yet involved, foster dialogue between them and the leading Italian Region, involve regional stakeholders, and periodically report on the results attained, also by holding tailored events at national and regional level.

The first plenary meeting with all the Regions and NTCs will take place on 10 June 2021.

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.