Innovation within the Triple Helix model fosters development and competitiveness
​T. Truskolaski
Białystok is a rapidly changing city. It is a "green island" in eastern Poland. For several years, changes have been taking place in Białystok which have enabled it to develop. One of the factors contributing to these changes is the active and appropriate use of available European funds. Both citizens of the city and people living in neighbouring towns benefit from this situation. One of the reasons for the changes is the new approach to management, based on the implementation of the Triple Helix model objectives. We met Tadeusz Truskolaski, Mayor of Białystok and Chairman of the Interregional Group of Less Developed Regions in the European Committee of the Regions, to discuss the challenges of modernisation and innovation facing Białystok today.

The "Triple Helix model" is often mentioned with regard to innovation and modernisation. Could you please explain this model?

It is a concept developed a few decades ago by Henry Etzkowitz and Loet Leydesdorff. According to this concept, innovations depend on relations between science (universities, research units, etc.), business (represented by entrepreneurs and business-related organisations) and public authorities. The closer the cooperation and the more levels and areas involved, the more significant and clearer the effects of innovations. A perfect situation would be interpenetration of these spheres and for the scope of their activities to extend to areas which are currently the remit of other partners. As a university professor, I am well aware that cooperation can create synergies — it has a multiplier effect. Representatives of one sphere only would not be able to achieve such a result. Nowadays, attention is also paid to other areas affected by this cooperation, such as society and the environment.

Does implementation of the Triple Helix concept at local level make sense?

Of course. In general, it is the easiest to research and evaluate changes implemented within the framework of national policy. However, a complete approach also takes into consideration factors originating in society, the environment of the three spheres. These are factors with specific pools and relationships. Much depends on the level of independence of local authorities, which is regulated by the legislature.

What is the situation in Poland like in this respect?

Since local authorities began to take a more active part in shaping Poland — that is, since the act on tertiary administration division, which came into force in 1999 — Polish local authorities have implemented their own development concepts. They do not have to base all their actions on central authority guidelines. These guidelines constitute advice that local authorities can also influence, which is also the case for preparing documents — strategies, programmes — related to subsequent financial perspectives of the European Union.

How is this concept implemented in Białystok?

Due to the profile of my Regional Policy and Project Management Department at the Faculty of Economics and Management of the University of Białystok, we carried out considerable research on this topic. We had a good grasp of how local innovators function. In Białystok, bilateral relations have been the most frequent so far. Cooperation between science and business was implemented in a very narrow and restricted way. This was partly due to different expectations, differences in potential and a low level of mutual trust. For these reasons, there was much to do.

That structure of relations between the spheres made me decide on the implementation of the hybrid approach, which is to lead eventually to the independence of science/business relations. One tool of key importance in terms of innovation creation is the Białystok Science and Technology Park. Moreover, it is supposed to create appropriate conditions for the three spheres to co-exist. It is the only way to lay the groundwork for new and modern competitive advantages for our beautiful city.

Why did you decide to implement this approach in Białystok?

It fosters development and competitiveness. The reform carried out at the end of the 20th century removed the restrictions blocking local and regional potential. Prior policy was shaped by central decisions, which were a very poor match for the needs of particular cities and the capacity of smaller public administration units. I hope that the benefits resulting from the active work on the implementation of model assumptions will be long lasting and wide ranging. The project to create the Białystok Science & Technology Park was completed in 2015 and positive effects are already noticeable. Companies being developed with the support of the Białystok Science & Technology Park become independent and relocate their offices.

The expected diffusion of innovation is taking place. Other entrepreneurs from across the region and even those operating outside the region benefit indirectly from the effects as well. The area has started to develop independently, as proven by the strong interest in locating businesses in the Park and its vicinity and in participating in the development process of new enterprises. Private partners are emerging which plan to provide services for innovative companies after the start-up and initial incubation period taking place in the Białystok Science & Technology Park.

Finally, do you have any recommendations for members of local government?

The most important thing is to listen to people and implement cooperation based on transparency and trust. The role of local authorities is to link expectations, look for the best solutions, and negotiate and seek a consensus. The development of all three spheres has an impact on society, including higher life satisfaction levels of residents. Białystok is one of the leaders of the Eurobarometer ranking. In 2016, it was voted the best Polish city to live in. We aspire to be one of the leading cities in terms of business development potential as well. We have a lot to do to achieve this goal.

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