Alessio Giustolisi

POLISS research theme

Place-Specific Factors and the Design and Implementation of Smart Specialisation Strategies

Host institution

University of Vienna

Secondment institutions

University of Stavanger
Lower Austria Provincial Government

Supervisory team


Alessio studied Human Geography at the University of Cologne and University College Dublin and holds a Master’s degree in Economic Geography from the University of Amsterdam. He spent several months in Vietnam researching the electronics industry during his master thesis and was later involved in a research project on the determinants of foreign direct investments in Cambodia. Alessio has further gained 2.5 years of research experience at the Institute for Work and Technology (IAT) in Germany, focusing his work on regional structural change and the role of innovation in regional development.


Smart Specialisation is the latest regional development attempt by the European Union and has become an important regional innovation policy approach in the last few years. While it has been adopted across Europe, there is still little understanding of how smart specialisation works in different types of regions and what the particular opportunities and barriers to translating the concept into policy practice are. Some studies have highlighted the different challenges of regions depending on their varying capacities to design and implement smart specialisation strategies (S3). Nevertheless, there is still a lack of evidence and sound understanding of the sources of these differences in capacities. Furthermore, S3 builds on existing strengths of regions. However, to facilitate regional transformation, external sources, relations, and interdependencies are important but still less considered in S3. In addition, following the recent debates on mission and challenge orientation in innovation policies, this project focuses on how experiences in S3 in regions can be used to cope with grand societal challenges. Here, the project wants to contribute to the recent interest in moving S3 towards smart “specialisation strategies for sustainability” (S4). This project will contribute novel conceptual and empirical insights to scholarly and policy discussions about how place-specific factors shape the design and implementation of S3 and S4 in different types regions, taking non-regional influences into account.

Current Research Question

Recent dynamics in the bioeconomy in Lower Austria: What is the role of local and non-local institutional environments and policy actions in shaping the green transition in Lower Austria and how do linkages to non-local knowledge sources further facilitate these developments? In recent years the awareness of grand societal challenges has increased - especially fueled by the climate crisis - and thereby emphasized the need of innovation for economic transformation. These challenges have been mainly discussed on the national and supra-national level, regional approaches to coping with these challenges has however not been fully researched. While the RIS approach has been efficient in responding to system failures on a regional scale dealing with issues of low innovation, today’s grand societal challenges cannot be solely tackled by these strategies. It is argued that although innovation-based transformation is key to coping with these challenges, regional innovation policy could follow a mission or challenge-oriented approach. There is also evidence that wider institutional dynamics play an important role in regional structural change. This project analyses recent transformational dynamics in Lower Austria by looking into the transition process towards a bio-based economy. Especially, it analyses how regional but also wider institutional dynamics and knowledge flows facilitate the transformation towards a bioeconomy in Lower Austria. This work provides implications for place-based and mission-oriented innovation policies by including external dimensions.

Data & Methods

I will use a case study approach using semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders from firms, policy, and science; An extensive document analysis of past and current policies and strategies will be further conducted.

Societal interest

I'm interested to explore how regional policy makers can cope with grand societal challenges on a regional level and from the bottom-up by including a participative governance approach and broad stakeholder involvement.


Smart specialisation strategies: towards an outward-looking approach by Alessio Guistolisi, Maximilian Benner and Michaela Trippl (European Planning Studies, Feb 2022)

In recent years, regional innovation policies across Europe have relied on the smart specialisation approach to support new path development. However, its focus on endogenous knowledge flows remains a major weakness of the approach. This article argues that smart specialisation has to adopt an outward-looking approach that combines knowledge flows external and internal to the region. Based on four stylised types of regions, the article proposes generic strategies that can be pursued through smart specialisation. In terms of its policy implications, the article argues that policymakers should develop their regions’ external connectedness strategically to leverage complementarities in global knowledge flows for new path development.