22 March 2019 

miren larrea “Regional governments are essential when defining an intelligent specialisation strategy for the territory," says , father of the . This is something Orkestra’s research team feel sure about, since in 2012, they began to work on the definition of this strategy jointly with the Basque Government.

Miren Larrea, researcher at Orkestra, is clear about this: "The Basque Country is a territory with a significant institutional density at the regional, provincial, municipal and local levels. For an intelligent specialisation strategy to exist, it is necessary to develop a multilevel governance system that allows all agents to move forward through the construction of a shared vision ".

This is precisely the focus of Orkestra. In addition to facilitating multi-level governance projects such as the Territorial Development Laboratory of Etorkizuna Eraikiz, Bizkaia Orekan, Enraizando Áraba or Bilbao Next Lab, since 2018, together with the Basque Government, it has been working on the construction of a governance with the different actors across the territory that guarantees its correct development and implementation.  We have spoken with her to understand the keys for this process to become a case study at an international level.

The region, provinces, counties, cities ... Developing a RIS3 strategy considering all these actors is quite complex at first sight, how can these relations be articulated in the Basque Country?

The first step that must be taken when articulating such an ambitious strategy with so many actors involved is recognition. It must be recognised that this type of strategy is not only centrifugal in nature, that is, it is generated in a single centre and expands towards other actors, but it is also centripetal. In other words, the Bilbao City Council, for example, can also define its RIS3 strategy and influence the development of the Basque Country. Debating a model of these characteristics requires a high degree of sophistication in the strategy and this is a step that the Basque Government has already taken. From there, it is necessary to work on coordination mechanisms that allow the process to continue forward.

"Instead of going towards a homogenisation of the strategy, we should work on connecting this type of experiences"

How can we develop these coordination mechanisms?

Negotiations do not always follow a unique pattern; they are very complex and it is likely, for example, that what may work in Gipuzkoa, may not be valid for Bizkaia or Araba. Efficiency comes from understanding this type of asymmetries; these differences are often the result of a more contextual negotiation. Each territory has its peculiarities and therefore, it is necessary to work on a governance model based on each of these conditions. Based on this premise, instead of going towards a homogenisation of the strategy, we should work on connecting this type of experiences.

Working on connecting this kind of experiences sounds good, but Kevin Morgan talks about building a shared vision when developing smart specialisation strategies. How can we achieve this if each territory, each reality and each model is different?

From the moment different actors come into play, there are different interests involved and the interpretations will also be different. This brings some complexity to the process, it is true, both with regard to the problem and to the solutions that are raised. There are common objectives for everyone, but when it comes to working with them, defining roles and types of leadership there will always be different visions. For us, the shared vision does not focus on everyone thinking the same, but on having a common vision of these differences, that is, understanding each view and position and being aware of the fact that this is the only way we can achieve a common work space. In English, this is called: "agreement enough to act". This is how we develop our work in this field.

Do we have agreement enough to act in the Basque Country?

The Basque Country is a territory with a high institutional density. On the one hand, there is the Basque Government with a recognised and powerful industrial policy. On the other hand, the regional councils have powers in finance and innovation policies. We have the county development agencies with their connection to the territory and town councils. With all these governance levels, if everyone were on their own with their own interests and plans, the result would be chaos. On the contrary, working on multilevel governance with all these actors, what we achieve is that this institutional density becomes a strength.

And at the heart of this task involving so many actors and visions we find Orkestra. What is the role of academia in this process?

We are facilitators of the process through research. Our task is to combine the skills and knowledge of the participating actors, also contributing our academic knowledge. This is something that helps to conceptualise, that is, to name things, and through their conceptualisation, create that dialogue between the actors involved in order to build the most appropriate strategy. In the construction of a strategy there are emerging visions and we work on that emerging vision. We do not have a linear methodology, but we have a methodological basis to be able to build that emerging strategy.

A methodological basis focused on action research. Why this and not another methodology?

"Action research empowers people and this makes power to be more distributed, which leads to more shared decision-making"

Action research is by definition a participatory and dialogical process. The new participatory governance is also dialogical in nature. This methodology allows to open a dialogue and build shared leadership. Action research empowers people and this makes power to be more distributed, which leads to more shared decision-making.

We have been working on this multilevel governance for ten years now. What is our assessment of the work done during this time?

We have taken very interesting steps and personally, I am quite satisfied with our achievements. However, reciprocity and recognition among the parties involved is something that we must continue to build. It is a process that requires deadlines that extend beyond the legislative terms. Protecting this type of projects from political cycles is essential to guarantee their correct development.

ACTION RESEARCH METHODOLOGY. MIREN LARREA EXPLAINS THAT...

 

TIs based on praxis, which means that it enables a specific relationship between theory and practice. We come from university, from academia, and therefore, our starting point is theory, theoretical concepts.

This methodology allows us to take our concepts to practice, to test them, to reinforce what works and to discard what does not work. We therefore test our knowledge in practice.

This also allows us to maintain an open dialogue with the actors involved, which in turn allows us to contribute to our theoretical framework.

Normally, when academic research is carried out, there are very big barriers when it comes to putting it into practice, something that does not happen with action research because research is stems from practice itself. This methodology allows you to build the strategy along the way, modify the path when there are things that do not work, thus breaking with the linearity proposed by other methods I have worked with before.

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