It has been over 10 years since October 2013, when a team of five researchers from the institute attended the first meeting of what would end up being the city's urban competitiveness policy laboratory, Bilbao Next Lab (BNL), at the Mayor's office of the Bilbao City Council. This laboratory that has marked the development of Orkestra's line of research focused on urban competitiveness.

Looking back, we realise how little action research processes can be predicted. Each of the people who have participated in this adventure during these 10 years has marked the course of the laboratory. A course driven by the desire to promote a competitive development for the sustainable wellbeing of the city and in which we can distinguish three main stages.

Between 2013 and 2016, the Mayor's Office and Orkestra focused the project on identifying the challenges for the transformation of the city's economic model. The aim was to overcome the effect derived from the physical transformation carried out in Bilbao in previous years. This period allowed us to define the urban strategy of smart specialisation. A key milestone within the logic of the recently launched smart specialisation strategies in which the urban level was barely recognised. In addition, we sought to demonstrate and promote the contribution that the city could make to a regional strategy such as the Basque PCTI (Science, Technology and Innovation Plan). That stage was crucial in order to start involving the rest of the City Council team in the logic of urban competitiveness, focusing on specific areas such as the Old Quarter and promoting European projects such as Urbact InFocus that would support, from the European framework, the objective of Bilbao Next Lab.

Between 2016 and 2019, the presidency and management of Bilbao Ekintza were taken over by Bilbao Next Lab and a change in the project coordination by Orkestra makes the action research approach gain strength. This period saw the birth of action research processes that are still active today and seek to address the main challenges for advancing the city's smart specialisation: the development of the Bilbao Ekintza team's capabilities, the construction of mechanisms for the multilevel articulation of the specialisation strategy, the creation of VET talent in the field of Knowledge Intensive Business Services (KIBS) and learning between European cities, among others. It was a period in which the commitment to the field of KIBS gained strength. Specifically, addressing the gap in talent for KIBS or its connection with the regional industrial fabric are the main issues on which BNL began to focus.

From 2019, and having suffered the consequences of the pandemic, we continued working on the research processes started in the previous stage with greater consistency. We incorporate the new competitiveness framework proposed by Orkestra in 2021 and the logic of collaborative governance is consolidated as the main approach for the city's competitiveness policy.

All the processes carried out in these three stages are part of a complex action research process in which the construction of a shared language and vision between Orkestra researchers and Bilbao Ekintza policymakers (with a political, management or technical profile) has been one of the keys. As policymakers, the knowledge co-generated together with Orkestra gives us capabilities and support to carry out unique and innovative actions in the field of urban competitiveness policy. As researchers, in addition to contributing to Academy through this knowledge, BNL allows us to develop capacities to address urban competitiveness challenges from the academic field.

Bilbao Next Lab is not an annual assignment set by Bilbao Ekintza for Orkestra. It is not a series of projects limited in time. The most tangible results of the Lab have to do with policies or programs that have been implemented as a result of the Lab but, beyond that, BNL is a team of people who, with great transparency, empathy and trust, have been changing the way competitiveness policy implemented in Bilbao and transforming the city's competitiveness model in a systemic way.

Ibon Gil de San Vicente

Xabier Ochandiano

Xabier holds a degree in Business Administration and Management and has an outstanding professional career in the field of public service (Bilbao Ekintza and Basque Government). Since May 2015, he has served as Councilor of the Area of Economic Development, Commerce, Tourism and Employment in the City Council of Bilbao and has been Coordinator of Economic Policies and Citizen Attention since 2019.


miren estensoro

Miren Estensoro

Miren Estensoro is a Researcher at Orkestra-Basque Institute of Competitiveness and a lecturer at Deusto Business School. She holds a PhD in Economics from the University of the Basque Country. Her research area is mainly local economic development, territorial governance and multi-level coordination of competitiveness policies.

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