Impact on innovation in cross-border regions

Innovation is one frequently occurring theme targeted by European Territorial Cooperation programmes, including cross-border cooperation (CBC) programmes. But what is the real impact the programmes have on stimulating innovation in their programme areas and how can this impact be measured in relation to their specific objectives? 

The ESPON project CBC TIA that focused on five INTERREG A programmes found very few similarities between the strength of impact on same or similar thematic fields in each programme. But three case studies confirmed an interesting observation regarding their impact on cross-border innovation.

Two of the CBC programmes, the INTERREG V-A Sweden – Norway[1] and INTERREG V-A United Kingdom – Ireland, have registered a positive impact of the programme on cross-border innovation, especially in urban areas. For example, the Sweden – Norway programme has helped in the development of an innovation ecosystem involving cross-border stakeholders, with particularly strong collaboration between actors in the Värmland and Hedmark regions in areas of shared interests and strength, such as forestry, bio foods, manufacturing, and renewable energy solutions.

The findings of two other programs which have investigated the Specific Objectives related to innovation are more complicated. Both INTERREG V-A Germany – The Netherlands and INTERREG V-A Spain – Portugal (POCTEP)[2] case studies found that no significant impact of the programmes can be identified based on quantitative assessment (taking into consideration the limitations of the available data including time-lags for collection in both cases).

However, in both cases, this greatly contrasts the qualitative assessment of involved expert panels. In regards to both programmes, it was similarly and independently concluded that programme impact on cross-border innovation is difficult to measure with existing quantitative indicators, however, it is deemed as significant for the cross-border area.

For example, POCTEP programme is considered by experts to play an important role in terms of creating the conditions for business development and innovation by bringing enterprises, research centres and other regional stakeholders together to learn from each other’s experiences and therefore produce common new knowledge and cooperate to improve competitiveness. However, this cannot be reflected in statistical analyses.

It should be noted that the different result of the impact assessment in relation to this thematic area is a consequence of the differences in the approach to expert judgement which are most visible in the cases of the Sweden – Norway programme on the one hand, as well as POCTEP and Germany – The Netherlands programmes on the other hand. In short, the POCTEP and the Germany – The Netherlands experts, unlike the Sweden – Norway experts, have in their judgement focused on foreseeing the trend of the impact based on the available quantitative data and, in a way, replicating the quantitative information.

In contrast, the Sweden – Norway experts’ judgement, while informed by quantitative data, was more qualitative in nature as it assessed the impact of the programme based on its qualitative significance, rather than, in the first place, its quantitative measurability.

As a result, the POCTEP and Germany – the Netherlands programmes` conclusions were that impact has a low magnitude, based on quantitative information, with the qualification that it is still significant. On the other hand, the outcome of the judgement by Sweden –Norway programme was that the impact has a high magnitude because it is significant, despite being quantitatively low. In effect, the impact assessment in all four cases is very similar; however, this has called for additional guidance on how expert judgement should be made.

This finding, that bases on a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods and contrasts their results, suggests that cross-border regions may play an important yet quantitatively underestimated role in impacting cross-border innovation. It also confirms that these programmes stand before the challenge of finding the appropriate methodological tools to measure their impact. Quantitative analyses may often be not sensitive enough to capture their positive impacts of CBC programmes as it seems to be in case of innovation.

[1] The case study was focused on the Inner Scandinavia subregion

[2] The case study was focused on the Galicia-Northern Portugal subregion

More information and results for our TIA-CBC project