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Conclusions and recommendations

Regional strategies need to build on geographic proximity, including with cross-border neighbours, to be more effective globally. A strong cross-border regional innovation system can better take advantage of global networks. But that geographic proximity is not enough. Other forms of proximity in terms of knowledge bases and socio-cultural factors, as well as institutional practices, are also important dimensions to consider when deciding if crossborder innovation policies make sense.

There are many reasons why public authorities may seek to collaborate with a cross-border neighbour. Such rationales are based on the need for economies of scale (to build critical mass, gain political power or obtain specialised services for innovation); economies of scope (complementarities in assets, innovation domains and price differentials); public and club goods (regional identity, regional branding or specialised infrastructure) and externalities related to the day-to-day issues of cross-border flows.

Cross-border efforts should target “functional” regions for innovation, but data are often lacking to make that determination. The definition of a functional cross-border area depends, of course, on the function. Indicators measuring innovation-related flows of people, goods, services, capital and knowledge, in addition to those that measure integration more generally, help to assess the relevant geographic scale for the cross-border area. Such measures consider the different proximities that provide the more favourable conditions for collaboration. Definitions of a cross-border area also need to recognise variable geometry and avoid new borders. They can change over time, or simply depend on different specialisations within which innovation interaction takes place. Competing definitions of the cross-border area co-exist in many places.

Key recommendations for defining the cross-border area include:

  • • Understand what the data show, but don’t wait for complete data to start collaborating. Despite a long history of cross-border flows in some areas, there is a notable lack of data to support decision making about the utility and progress of cross-border collaboration. Launching some form of collaboration should not wait for a three-year study, but some basic indicators can draw attention to the need for collaboration. Three forms of data analysis can be important. First is internal data on the flows and level of integration. A second set of data benchmarking international performance is helpful for supporting a strategic vision for the cross-border area. A third set of useful data involves micro-analyses, which highlight the possible failures in the innovation system, and how policy, or other efforts, can help remedy them.
  • • Only pursue the cross-border element when it makes sense. In some cases, geographic proximity is important for a particular innovation partner or project. In others, accessing the best global partner is the priority. One test for the relevance of the collaboration is whether the workers, firms and research-intensive actors in the region see a benefit to cross-border interactions, because if they do not, publicly cofunded innovation projects may only last as long as public money is available. The public sector can stimulate demand by innovation actors by raising awareness of cross-border opportunities.
  • • Allow a certain degree of flexibility in the area definition to avoid creating unhelpful new borders. It is not in the interest of developing the cross-border area to artificially create a barrier to connections outside the border through funding streams. Area definitions are subject to political realities of administrative borders, and thus funding sources. While the perimeter will be set somewhere, some flexibility in funding opportunities to outside actors helps overcome the rigidities of new definitions.
  • • Do not under-estimate the importance of other “hard” and “soft” factors beyond innovation. Innovation policy instruments are generally part of economic, industrial or research policy. However, the functionality of the region for innovation also depends on some basic transport infrastructure to improve internal accessibility, which proved “game-changing” in certain case study regions. Other soft factors help build contacts and interest in the other side of the border, including language and culture, which were reported to also be important.
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