In the last years there has been lots of debate in academic and policy-making arena about what innovation policy-mix means. This is particularly interesting in the framework of Smart Specialisation Strategies as a new generation of innovation policy. These strategies give directionality to previous approaches and therefore new (or adapted) mixes of instruments have to be implemented to respond to these new challenges. It is here where evaluation and policy-learning processes could really help to understand these new mixes and to improve them. This is at the core of the MANUMIX project, which led by Innobasque and with the participation of representatives of 4 European territories with and Advanced Manufacturing related strategy (Basque Country, Piadmont, Lithuania and Wales) and advised by Orkestra discussed in the first learning journey held in Bilbao.
The aim of this journey was twofold. First of all, it was important to share the different understandings of advanced manufacturing for each territory, and although it didn’t result in a common approach, it was important to reflect that different contexts lead to different understandings and therefore different challenges may flourish. Innovation instruments come into play in this nexus, between context and challenges. Secondly, a debate around whether these instruments are combined in an intentional or unintentional manner from the policy-making side captured the afternoon discussion. Although it was recognised that some of the interactions between the different instruments for advanced manufacturing where intentional, in many cases the effect of these interactions is known afterwards, in the implementation phase. And what is even more, sometimes it is the beneficiary the one that clearly identifies this interaction and not the policy-maker.
In addition, one of the most highlighted issues that reflect the heterogeneity of policy-mixes in the different territories is the degree of directionality and novelty of the instruments. In many cases instruments already existed before the implementation of the RIS3 strategies, but in some other cases the policy-mix is fairly new. In most of the cases, the policy-mix is composed of non-directional instruments but in combination with new directional ones specific for advanced manufacturing. Therefore, although instruments are not new in these contexts, the policy-mix or combination of instrument is what can be seen as a new wine in old bottle.
All this gives much room to evaluation but it is also acknowledged that it is a complex issue. In fact, as I, together with my colleague James Wilson explored in the academic context, there is little evidence about how these evaluations can be implemented, and therefore this project will contribute not only to the territories participating but also to the understanding of this complex issue in a wider term. This is why this is only the beginning of a journey.