The EU initiative for “Smart Specialisation Strategies” (S3) is animating the policy debate thanks to an interesting and innovative approach. However, this rapid success has left some mismatches from theory to practice that have emerged after the first round of implementation, and related considerations. To reflect on the S3 notion, we discuss the cases of Milan and Brussels which, in our view, question relevant theoretical elements: two advanced urban areas with entirely different institutional and spatial settings facing structural challenges and significant opportunities to keep a high level of competitiveness. This article aims to compare these two cases around four analytical dimensions: the multi-scale aspect of issues addressed; the relationships between the urban core and the surrounding areas; the possibility to govern the structural changes in the economy leading to jobs creation; and the capacity to locally embed economic development. We conclude arguing that time and space are fundamental variables to understand the dynamics leading to a ‘successful’ S3 implementation regarding the replicability of experiences associated to the scale of intervention, the long-term effects and risk-taking attitudes.

Open Access Article available using the following link.


Lo sviluppo delle aree metropolitane richiede conoscenze complesse per progettare e implementare le politiche pubbliche. L’acquisizione di queste conoscenze, l’adattamento ai diversi contesti e la capacità di far fronte alle necessità emergenti sono elementi strategici per lo sviluppo territoriale, identificando una nuova area di “governance” orientata all’apprendimento per l’implementazione delle politiche pubbliche.

Partendo da tre casi studio di politiche implementate nella Regione di Bruxelles-Capitale, le strategie messe dei diversi attori saranno discusse alla luce di un contesto di forte regionalizzazione che, a partire dal 1989, ha radicalmente ridefinito il quadro istituzionale belga. Se da un lato le politiche europee hanno agito come stimolo esogeno, le diverse capacità degli attori locale di adattarsi e re-agire alle sfide metropolitane evidenziano la necessità di avere molteplici ed eterogenee fonti di conoscenza, di avere consapevolezza di come queste vengono selezionate ed utilizzate, ed infine di come preservarle nel lungo periodo.

Articolo pubblicato sul numero speciale dei Quaderni Svimez (n. 47).

Knowledge plays an essential key role in the policymaking process for interpreting the available information, defining policy issues at stake and evaluating possible solutions – especially in complex policy issues like water management. However, for city-regions, knowledge is often a scarce resource due to the small size of the policy community, context-specific issues, limited availability of resources and experts, as well as the challenge of addressing complex issues that are often supra-local. This paper explores which patterns of local knowledge promote policy change and learning. Starting from the ‘policy paradigm’ concept, a cognitive–evolutionary approach is applied to analyse Brussels’ water management policy, which aims to address the major challenge of flooding. The variety of knowledge by local actors, the role of the policy paradigm of the local policymaking community in vetting information and evaluating alternative solutions, and the importance of local governments for retaining knowledge, are the main dimensions to understanding policy change and learning. City-regions benefit from direct contacts between actors facilitating exchange of knowledge, while supra-local decisions (e.g. EU directives) and local accidents can also trigger major changes. Based on my findings, policymakers tend to rely on technocratic patterns using already available knowledge, mainly whether decentralisation reshapes the policymaking community. While a technocratic pattern determines only minor changes and institutional instability undermines policy learning, policy entrepreneurs and participative patterns can promote major changes and learning if they are able to engage in dialogue with the dominant policy paradigm.

Published in European Urban and Regional Studies.