Innovation policy mixes in the Baltic Sea Region

Europe of Knowledge |

balticseAnete Vītola

In my paper, “Innovation policy mix in a multi-level context: The case of the Baltic Sea Region countries”, I analyze how multi-level innovation policy mixes function in the six countries of the Baltic Sea Region – Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The paper summarizes findings of my PhD thesis research on characteristics of multi-level innovation policy mixes.


Multi-level innovation policy

The term ‘policy mix’ has become popular both among academics and policy makers. The thinking behind it emphasizes the need to plan, design, implement, evaluate and analyze policy, taking into account other policy fields and governance levels, since regional and supra-national governments increasingly consider innovation policy to be an important activity (Flanagan et al., 2011).

At the same time relations between national and regional governments (OECD, 2011) and the role of supra-national institutions is unclear. The interaction may lead to incoherence, overlapping or layering (Howlett, 2011) which is usually caused by lack of coordination (Peters and Savoie, 2000). These characteristics were not identified in this study (Vitola 2014). Interaction between policies can also be mutually reinforcing, but no strong evidence on such synergy has been found here.


Two extremes of policy mix characterization

The analysis of multi-level innovation policy mixes was performed with the help of qualitative content analysis of policy planning documents and in-depth interviews with innovation policy makers. Several elements of policy mixes such as policy rationales, aims, target groups, attitudes of policy makers towards other government levels and coordination mechanisms were compared between government levels. In my paper (Vitola, 2014), I compared the values of the aforementioned indicators or elements of policy mixes between government levels and explored whether the overlapping and synergy is evident or not. The study focused on the policy planning and implementation; therefore, the results cannot be used to evaluate the overlapping or synergy of the policy impacts. Research that compares impacts of innovation policies of different government levels has to be performed in the future because policy instruments are not always based in policy aims formulated by policy makers (Borras and Edquist, 2013).

The countries of the European Union are unique in terms of multi-level innovation policy mixes because only there supranational government level has its own agenda and policy in the field of innovation. Countries with well-developed regional innovation policies (such as Sweden, Denmark and Finland in this study) have the most complicated multi-level innovation policy mixes, due to three parallel government levels in one or other way targetting the same innovation system.

Policy mixes can have two extreme characteristics – the negative extreme is overlapping between the elements of the policy mix and the positive extreme is synergy between the elements of the policy mix. In the context of multi-level innovation policy mixes, overlapping can occur when the government levels which form the policy mix have very similar innovation policy rationales, aims, target groups, and the understanding of the role of each government level is not clear among the policy makers. Synergy between the elements of the policy mix, which requires good coordination, occurs when individual policies are designed and implemented in a way that considers other policies, for example, by planning consequent timing of policy programs or targeting different stages of company development life cycle or problems in the innovation system.

Despite the existence of multi-layered innovation policy mixes in the six cases analyzed, no significant overlapping between policies was identified. All elements of multi-level innovation policy mixes are specific at each government level and policy makers are well informed about the activities of other government levels and try to coordinate their policy programs. In the case of Nordic countries where three parallel government levels exist and overlapping was not identified, this might be partly explained with well-functioning public administration in these countries (Peters, 2001).


Towards more synergies?

At the same time, analyzed policy mixes are not characterized by synergy. Positive interactions and planned synergy between government levels is not evident. This is a topical issue for policy makers, for example, respondent from Sweden indicated: ‘The issue on how to improve interaction between regional, national and supra-national policy instruments, is very topical for us, but not resolved’.

The study shows that in the Baltic Sea Region, at least in the planning and implementation phases of policy, multi-level innovation policy mixes don’t have the negative side effect of overlapping. However, policy makers could do more to reinforce synergies between different levels of government. Further research on policy impacts in this multi-level context has to be performed to have a complete understanding on functioning of multi-level innovation policy mixes.


Anete Vītola has recently submitted her PhD thesis at the Political Science Department, University of Latvia. Her research interests include innovation policy in the Baltic Sea Region and European Union, and the role of government in supporting social innovation. From February 2015 she undertakes research on social innovation at the Advanced Social and Political Research Institute of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Latvia. Contact:



Borras, S. and Edquist, C. (2013) “The choice of innovation policy instruments”, CIRCLE Electronic Working Papers, no. 2013/04. Lund, Sweden: CIRCLE, Lund University.

Flanagan, K., Uyarra, E. and Laranja, M. (2011) “Reconceptualising the policy mix for innovation”, Research Policy, 40: 702–13.

Howlett, M. (2011) “Designing Public Policies: Principles and Instruments”, pp. 50–3. London: Routledge.

OECD (2011) “Regional Innovation Policy”. Paris: OECD.

Peters, G.B. (2001) “The Politics of Bureaucracy”, p. 186. London: Routledge.

Peters, G.B. and Savoie, D. (2000) “Governance in the Twenty-first Century: Revitalizing the Public Service”. Montreal, Canada: McGill-Queens University Press.

Vitola, A. (2014) “Innovation policy mix in a multi-level context: The case of the Baltic Sea Region countries”. Science and Public Policy, published online 08.10.2014. doi: 10.1093/scipol/  scu059