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Silicon Somewhere?

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Public authorities in the European Union actively promote the dissemination of so-called ‘best practices' in regional policy. With the help of scoreboards, case studies and interregional benchmarks, policy makers hope to improve the competitiveness of Europe's regions. In practice, however, this development has resulted in a tendency for regions to simply imitate a limited number of alleged success stories such as Silicon Valley. Hence, we can observe the emergence of a range of ‘Silicon Valley' type initiatives across Europe. In this article the usefulness of such best practices in regional policy is assessed with the aim of drawing lessons. For this purpose, insights are combined from Schumpeterian thinking, economic geography and comparative public policy. First, the copycat behaviour in regional policy is explained by placing Schumpeter's innovation theory in a political context. Then, the factors that are generally regarded in the economic-geographical literature as the determinants of regional competitiveness are reviewed. Thereafter, insights from comparative public policy are used to identify the ‘contingencies of lesson-drawing', i.e. the preconditions that affect whether a policy can be transferred from one place to another. When combining the different bodies of literature, it is concluded that exactly those conditions that explain the success of a particular region are the most difficult elements to learn from. It is thus argued that the possibilities of lesson-drawing from best practices in regional policy are only limited. Moreover, by relying too heavily upon them, it is feared that regions undermine their competitiveness and become victims of a territorial race to the bottom. Policy makers are therefore advised to take care with the further propagation of ‘best practices' in regional policy. Only when authorities are stimulated to attune their policy to area-based assets (‘regional realism'), will the wasteful attempts of regions to grow into the next ‘Silicon Somewhere' be prevented.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2006

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