Track 1: Regional transformation and relatedness

Jacob Rubæk Holm,

Department of Business and Management, Aalborg University

For more than a decade there has been a focus in economic geography and related fields on mapping the relatedness of economic activities. These contributions have used different names for the resulting map depending on the data used. For example, the "product space" when using data on export goods, "skill relatedness" when using data on labor inputs, or “technology space” when using patent data.

The various relatedness indices have been used to explain regional transformation: the new economic activity entail exports of goods related to those previously exported from the region; the new activity will employ labor inputs similar to those already employed in the region, etc. Therefore, relatedness indices have not very useful for regional policy development, as they could at best prescribe the regional industry structure.

Recent studies have moved in two directions: 1) Further development of the indices including methodological coherence and conceptual discussions. 2) As predictors of regional transformation, such indices are potentially also able to explain other regional level outcomes that are contingent on or antecedents of regional transformation, and not just regional transformation itself. In this track, we welcome contribution in both directions.



  • Relatedness as a driver of firm-firm and firm-university collaboration

  • The role of relatedness for regional diffusion of technology, job switching and regional inequality

  • Antecedents and consequences of regional transformation

  • The regional policy use of relatedness indices

  • Conceptual discussions of relatedness indices

  • Methodological development of relatedness indices

Track 2: The geography of eco-innovation

                 and sustainability transition

Christian Richter Østergaard, Department of Business and Management, Aalborg University

Regions are facing a sustainability transition and a challenge of creating green growth. This pose great challenges for regional innovation policy and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to embarking on a green regional growth path. Some regions are clearly more advanced than other regions in the sustainability transition and regions also differ in opportunities and willingness. Thus, there are many contextual factors that influence the regions’ sustainability transitions. Some of these are systemic features of the regional innovation systems, while others are related to actors’ strategies and capacities for institutional and technical change.

The sustainability transition is seen both as a treat and as an opportunity for firms and industries. Some industries are greener than others and better equipped for changes in future demand. However, the transition of the economy is not confined to specific environmental industries. Therefore, eco-innovations now occurs across a wide set of industries. This track explores  the geography of eco-innovation and of sustainability transitions from multiple perspectives:



  • The geography of eco-innovation

  • Environmental technological specialization and diversification

  • Sustainability transitions and institutional change

  • Regional innovation policy : processes, practices and policy learning

  • Barriers and drivers for successful regional sustainability transition

Track 3: Place-sensitive innovation and innovation 

Carsten Jahn Hansen,

Department of Planning, Aalborg

The last couple of decades have increasingly seen notions that regional innovation, governance and planning should become more ‘place-based’ or ‘place-sensitive’. Place-oriented approaches imply greater attention to geography and regional-local context from the beginning of policy and planning processes. It stresses the importance of building more tailormade institutions and intervention strategies that embeds local knowledge, values, social capital and community practices, while it also seeks to develop external relations.

As such, place-sensitive approaches have become central to the transformation of places. The aim is often to achieve a place-specialisation effect that makes the place meaningful or attractive to citizens, companies, tourists, etc., and also competitive in relations beyond the place itself. The means are focused on the mobilisation and activation of place qualities and local-regional resources through deliberate coordination between authorities, businesses and civil society actors and networks, as well as between sectors and disciplines.

This track welcomes contributions that explore and discuss various insights to place development, and in particular how regional-local innovation, governance and planning may been viewed and dealt with in more place-sensitive modes. Sub-theme examples are:

  • Place development and place specialization in a regional context

  • Reterritorialisation and soft spaces in regional-local governance and planning

  • Transboundary planning and building new place governance and new planning spaces

Track 4: The role of universities in regional development

Rune Dahl Fitjar, University of Stavanger; 

David Charles, Northumbria University

Universities are increasingly as important actors in regional innovation systems, with a key role as promoters of innovation and regional development in most regions – as producers of new knowledge, of a highly skilled workforce, and as transmitters of knowledge to firms, policy-makers and the general public. In assuming this role, universities are taking on a mission to contribute to innovation and knowledge-based economic development in the regions where they are located. Universities as institutions embody the apparent contradiction that knowledge is global, but learning is local. While knowledge, at least in codified form, appears to be global, its production and transmission is often highly localised within micro-scale communities encompassing knowledge users and producers, coordinated through shared goals relating to that knowledge. Universities are increasingly representing key arenas linking local innovation and learning communities to global production and innovation networks. This special session explores the various ways in which universities may strengthen the capabilities for innovation in firms and regions through providing new knowledge, building interregional networks and taking on broader developmental roles. Papers are particularly encouraged on the role of universities in regional policies such as the European Structural Funds, on involvement in smart specialisation strategies and in regional innovation networks.



  • University contributions to regional innovation policy

  • The role of universities in regional innovation networks

Track 5: Regional innovation systems

Michaela Trippl, University of Vienna

Over the last three decades the regional innovation system (RIS) approach has emerged as an influential concept for explaining the uneven distribution of innovation in space. Apart from becoming a guiding paradigm for research, the RIS approach has proven to be a popular policy framework, informing the design and implementation of place-based regional innovation strategies in many parts of the world.

Recent work has identified the need to extend and enrich the research agenda on RISs. It is argued that much work on RISs has had a strong tendency to focus on successful regions whilst studies of failing or dysfunctional RISs are still scarce and innovation dynamics in less developed regions remain poorly understood.

Furthermore, there are vivid discussions about new forms (social, user driven, service innovation), modes (internet-based collaborations among individuals, open source innovation, sharing practices) and actors (users, civil society actors, new intermediaries) of innovation. These new forms, modes and actors are still not fully captured in current research activities on RISs.

There are also increasing demands that innovation and innovation policy should not only lead to economic benefits but should also result in enhanced capacities to tackle grand societal challenges such as climate change, the ageing society, and growing social and territorial inequalities. Arguably, this raises questions about the desirability and societal benefits of innovation activities. These concerns are reflected in a growing literature on responsible research and innovation and mission-oriented approaches to innovation policy.

Finally, there are calls for forging a more dynamic perspective of RIS, according attention to system dynamics and policies that drive new regional path development and RIS transformation, the role of agency in such processes, the directionality of change and the goal-orientation of RISs.

This track invites contributions that seek to cast light on the themes identified above. We also welcome papers that provide theoretical advances, novel empirical evidence and discussions of policy implications in relation to other RIS research topics. Questions to be addressed may thus include, but are not limited to:

  • What innovation characteristics and dynamics can be found in less favoured regions? What policy approaches are best suited to promote innovation in these areas?

  • What roles do new innovation actors (users, civil society actors, new intermediaries, etc.) play in RISs and what are their innovation potentials?

  • What governance set-ups are most suitable to include new actors in regional innovation processes?

  • Which factors shape the capacities of RISs to promote the new types and modes of innovation identified above?

  • What is the geography of socio-ecological innovation activities? What is the role of the regional policy level in new mission-oriented and transformative innovation policies?

  • How do RIS transform over time and how do they shape the nature and direction of new (green and other types of) path development? What is the role of firm-level and system-level agency in such processes? And what do we know and should we know about the ‘dark side’ of path development and RIS evolution?

Track 6: Regional innovation policies and the EU

Manuel González-López and María del Carmen Sánchez-Carreira.

Department of Applied Economics, University of Santiago de Compostela

The EU innovation policy is characterised by a multilevel model and the regions have increasingly become relevant actors in innovation policies. In this regard, a major milestone was the adoption of the Smart Specialization approach by the EC DG for Regional and Urban Policy and so this innovation based approach became central into the EU Cohesion policy. Most EU regions have applied S3-based policies during the 2014-2020 period, and so we count with a large number of experiences which might enrich our regional innovation policies discipline. Moreover, the burst of the current pandemic crisis has led the EU institutions to set up an extraordinary Recovery Fund (NextGenerationEU instrument) which can be an opportunity for EU regions in order to reinforce their innovation policies. This track welcomes contributions to discuss and explore regional innovation policies from an EU perspective. Some themes within this topic are: 

  • Regional experiences on the design and implementation of S3.  

  • Evaluation and monitoring of S3 in EU regions.  

  • The contribution of S3-based innovation policies for policy learning in regions 

  • Regional cohesion in Europe after the implementation of S3-based regional policies 

  • The NextGenerationEU instrument from a regional innovation perspective

Track 7: Policy and governance innovation

Morten Balle HansenKristian Kongshøj and Jørgen Goul Andersen, Department of Politics and Society, Aalborg University

The world has changed since we started making this call for papers. The COVID-19 pandemic is unfolding and will most likely be of global importance for Policy-making and governance processes for years. Therefore, we encourage paper submissions that relate the themes of the policy and governance innovation literature to the current COVID-19 crisis. Besides the attempts to invent a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus, we see a lot of policy and governance innovation made in response to this rapid, unexpected and widespread crisis. Both internationally and at the national, regional and local levels of Government.

The mobilization of resources and measures taking place and the speed of current policy processes are likely to spur novel ways of policy-making and governance in the future. Due to the very recent occurrence of this situation, we accept on this issue papers that are less evidence-based. ​

This track invites contributions on policy- and governance innovation including:

  • diffusion and implementation of novel policies and governance models,

  • novel ways to involve the citizens in the policy process,

  • novel ways to use data, experts and scientific knowledge in the policy process

  • novel dynamics between politics and administration in the policy process

  • impact of regional dynamics and disparities on policy and governance innovation

Track 8: Mission-oriented policies

Rasmus Lema, Department of Business and Management, Aalborg University

There is increasing recognition that current innovation practices often contribute to economic, social and environmental problems. This has led to a ‘normative turn’ in innovation policy discussions, including those related to regional innovation. The concept of mission oriented-innovation policy is increasingly associated with the need to address societal challenges such as climate change, inclusive growth, health etc. Regional innovation debates are thus increasingly evolving around how to provide ‘direction’ to efforts of economic restructuring by defining shared missions and transformative innovation initiatives. However, they are only moving slowly from questions of ‘why’ mission-oriented innovation policies are needed to ‘who’ are the critical actors and ‘how’ they can be initiated and managed. This track aims to generate insights in this respect from cases and analyses of current experiences with mission-oriented regional innovation policies. It seeks to bring out the significance of initial conditions and contextual circumstances of different regions for the opportunities to undertake transformative innovation initiatives. Issues in this track include, but are not limited to, the following questions:

  • What is the potential of mission-oriented strategies to contribute to new path development in regions at different levels of economic and institutional sophistication?

  • What types of public, private and civil society sector collaborations should be facilitated for different objectives and in different types of regions?

  • How can the available policy levers be used strategically for transformative innovation?

  • How do mission-oriented and smart specialization policies connect at the regional level?  

  • Do new and emerging technologies facilitate or impede the realisation of mission objectives?  

  • What is the role of global connections in local mission innovation?