The European Commission's Directorate-General for Enterprise and Industry recently released The Regional Innovation Scoreboard 2014. The publication featured once again the role of Italian regions as moderate innovators, ranking the third place according to a scale from one (innovation leaders) to four (modest innovators). As shown in Fig. 1, Italian regions’ performances are comparable to those of Spanish and Greek ones as well as those of a few French and Norwegian regions. Yet a closer look at data allows us to point out some interesting evidences.
3 out of the 21 Italian regions, namely Piemonte, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Emilia Romagna, are ranked among the innovation followers, moving up one position from the national average. Besides regions’ innovation score is based on a compound index which may hide the results referred to each single indicator: unveiling the latter suggests a more detailed and heterogeneous picture of regional innovation. With this aim in mind, Italian regions’ performances related to each of the 11 indicators summarized in the composite index have been compared to those of Baden-Württemberg, a German region ranked among the top innovation leaders in the EU. The results of this exercise are depicted in Table 1 where each cell is coloured according to the distance between the value obtained by the Italian region and the corresponding value attained by Baden-Württemberg. Thus, the most intense red indicates the Italian region’s value is more than 75% lower than Baden-Württemberg’s one, while the lightest pink denotes a distance smaller than the 25% and green cells signal a higher rank for Italian regions’ indicators.
To sum up Italian regions’ innovation gap appears to be smaller than evaluated at a first glance. Yet one of the major weaknesses rests on a less proactive behaviour of companies, that prefer innovate more by adopting technologies and innovation already developed elsewhere and less by developing true new products or process innovations themselves. Finally the satisfactory propensity to in-house innovation by Northern Italy’s SMEs should be strengthen by a tougher co-operation with others, since complex innovations often require different flows of information and knowledge easily circulating among firms and institutions.