Colaborators:Bilbao Council– Bilbao Ekintza


Action research laboratory of Bilbao’s Specialization



Presentation of BNL

Bilbao Next Lab is the action research (henceforth AR) laboratory of Bilbao’s smart specialisation strategy.

Since the start of its activities in 2013 its goal has been to facilitate, by means of specialisation, the economic transformation of the city to foster a sustainable urban development.

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Orkestra-Basque Institute of Competitiveness and the Bilbao City Council together with Bilbao Ekintza are collaborating in order to implement this facilitation.

The two main challenges addressed by this laboratory are linked to the challenges faced by the City Council and Bilbao Ekintza (henceforth BE) when implementing and developing the city’s smart specialisation strategy:

  1. The development of the Bilbao Ekintza team’s capacities to fulfil their role as facilitators of the specialisation process
  2. the construction of mechanisms for multilevel articulation and thus define the role of Bilbao’s strategy in the RIS3 strategy of the Basque Country.

Action spaces

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Bilbao Ekintza Tractor Group

This space has the aim of defining the main challenges and monitoring the rest of the spaces to ensure a global vision.

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Bilbao Ekintza facilitators’ space

This space, formed mainly by the Bilbao Ekintza technical team and its management team, seeks to develop the facilitation capacities of the agency’s professionals to promote the iBilbao2020 strategy with a more active role.

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It is focused on addressing the challenges facing the City Council when facilitating, from its position, the specialitation process.

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Local Group

A multi-agent, multilevel space that allows to create ties of trust between participants so as to identify synergies and promote strategic projects with a shared vision.

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Action Research and academy

The process is not only shared with agents; the co-generated knowledge is transmitted to the Academia, making explicit a new role for researchers: to be facilitators.

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To check all the information about the project, you can download the following brochure.

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Smart city development in Zorrotzaurre, Bilbao. A case analysis

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Bilbao Ekintza Tractor Group


This is a space where the main challenges facing Bilbao Next Lab are defined and in which the rest of the spaces are monitored ensuring a global vision. The Tractor Group is comprised of the representatives of the Bilbao Ekintza (BE) Management Team and Orkestra researchers.

Dynamics and topics covered

There are weekly meetings facilitated by the Orkestra team which contributes with theoretical frameworks, concepts and analyses related to the challenges to be met and the means of addressing them. The main themes to be addressed are as follows:

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Bilbao Ekintza facilitators’ space


This space, formed in the main by the Bilbao Ekintza technical team and its management teams, seeks to develop the facilitation capacities of the agency’s professionals. These persons are termed facilitators of the specialisation process which aims to promote the iBilbao2020 strategy.

The facilitators carry out their process of reflection, decision and action subject to the agents’ processes and to this end have a series of capacities. The purpose of the facilitators’ space of Bilbao Next Lab is to develop these capacities and this is achieved via workshops based on AR.

The facilitators' space has focused, for instance, in the facilitation of an Entrepreneurial Discovery Process. This brochure contains information about the meaning of this term and about how to facilitate it, based on the case of Bilbao Next Lab. 

Cyclical dynamics

Each BE team or area is responsible for the implementation of an instrument. The workshops in the facilitators’ space seek to define the facilitation actions for the implementation of these instruments. For this purpose, the Orkestra team facilitates a cyclical process where facilitators reflect upon their role as facilitators in relation to the instruments which correspond to them and take the decisions that will lead to action in other spaces where territorial agents participate (companies, universities, entrepreneurs, etc.) but not the Orkestra researchers.

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This space focuses on addressing the challenges facing the City Council and, in particular, the Area of Economic Development, Commerce and Employment when facilitating, from their position, the specialisation process. It is made up of the representatives of the Area of Economic Development, Commerce and Employment of the City Council and the BE Management, as well as the team of Orkestra researchers.


The other area representatives of the City Council participate, on an occasional basis, in some meetings in this space. Similarly, there is monitoring of the work undertaken in the other spaces of the laboratory in order to ensure coordination with the activity of the City Council and involve the latter in the process of global AR.

As is the case with the other spaces, the facilitation of this space by the Orkestra team allows the activation of reflection processes which involve decision-making both within and beyond the space and the implementation of the corresponding facilitation actions by participating policy-makers.

Local Group


The Local Group is a space that brings together different territorial agents. Its creation is part of the European In Focus project. In Focus is a network of European cities aiming to improve their competitiveness by means of specialisation strategies and develop more efficient urban policies to strengthen and create economic in priority areas. In Focus also promotes articulation with the RIS3 strategies of the corresponding regions.

Main actions

The Local Group makes it possible, thanks to its multi-agent and multi-level nature, to:

  1. Articulate and improve policies and initiatives related with the priorities of urban and regional strategy, (ii) define strategic projects that support urban specialisation in priority areas.
  2. Define strategic projects that support urban specialisation in priority areas.
  3. Contribute to the construction of a shared vision by the agents involved with regard to urban specialisation strategies.

Orkestra is part of this group and, as an actor of the territory, contributes to the definition of the projects and to the detection of potential opportunities to be developed among members of the group. Orkestra also supports the facilitators’ team of the Local Group with theoretical frameworks and concepts.

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Action research and Academy


Bilbao Next Lab is based on an action research approach that allows researchers to play a different role. This approach demonstrates that researchers can act as facilitators of processes of change in the territory and assist in the construction of new models of governance, apart from acting as experts in the diagnosis of challenges for specialisation, making proposals or recommendations and evaluating the taken measures taken.


The basis is the cogenerative model:

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J. Karlsen y M. Larrea (2014)

Orkestra works on the conceptualisation of co-generated knowledge within the framework of Bilbao Next Lab. This is a space in which researchers participate in internal meetings of the team of researchers and conferences, workshops, etc. of the academic community and work on academic publications. This conceptualisation also permits the re-definition of new challenges within the spaces of the laboratory and benefits other processes in different research projects.

The main lines of research which Bilbao Next Lab makes it possible to develop in the academic field are as follows:

  • The role of cities and sub-regional governments in RIS3 strategies and multi-level governance of these strategies
  • The facilitation of RIS3 strategies
  • The role of Action-Research in RIS3 strategies (Action Research for Smart)
  • Social challenges and RIS3



Research project recognised as transformative and with a positive impact on society

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