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Central and regional government need to work together to raise the bar for innovation

The Netherlands is facing a period of major transitions towards a green, sustainable, digital and inclusive economy. Innovation plays a crucial role in this process. Innovation takes place in the regions, where businesses, scientists, talent and civil-society organisations come together to create inspiring initiatives and opportunities for innovation.

Some regions are more successful in this than others. Each region faces its own specific challenges in renewing its economy, strengthening broad welfare and prosperity in society and contributing to the achievement of transition goals. These differences between regions are steadily widening, partly due to the coronavirus crisis. However, achieving broad prosperity for the Netherlands and making progress in the transitions are dependent on the innovative strength of all regions. Central and regional governments have a shared responsibility to achieve regional renewal, speed up innovations and make the Netherlands more future-proof.

In this report the Dutch Advisory Council for Science, Technology and Innovation (AWTI) addresses the following question:

What can central government do to strengthen the innovative power of the Netherlands as a whole by helping to increase the innovative power of each individual region?

There is already extensive central and regional collaboration on regional innovation, and a great deal has already been achieved. However, the results would be even more impressive if central and regional governments were to work together to ensure genuine progress in regional renewal and to link up relevant innovation initiatives across different regions.

To achieve this, central and regional governments need to work towards a targeted, coordinated and balanced form of collaboration, as a means of strengthening the innovative power and competitiveness of the Netherlands as a whole as well as of each individual region: working together to raise the bar. It is an approach which ties in to the regional context and region-specific challenges and which builds on the specific innovative capacities of each region. Such an approach would lift the innovative capacity of all regions to a higher level. This in turn would enable the regions to ramp up their growth potential, improve the welfare of their citizens in a broad sense and contribute to meeting the transition goals which face the Netherlands. ‘New-style cooperation’ must give direction to regional innovation, improve the coordination between regional and national innovation targets and strengthen the links between relevant regional innovation efforts.

AWTI has four recommendations for achieving renewed cooperation between central and regional government; these recommendations are aimed at the new Cabinet:

  • Recommendation 1: Create an overarching and inspiring vision of the future so that all stakeholders have a clearer idea of what they are seeking to achieve.
  • Recommendation 2: Set up a interministerial coordination structure and create links to prevent fragmentation and unnecessary competition and achieve greater impact.
  • Recommendation 3: Develop well-considered regional innovation ecosystem agendas.
  • Recommendation 4: Stimulate innovation in and with the regions by challenging them and helping them to strengthen their research and innovation ecosystems.