Italy is showing robust growth in the field of innovation, according to the European Union. Italy, in fact, stands out as one of the countries with the highest increase in business digitalisation, broadband diffusion, IT skills and investment in research and development. Also in many other indices that Brussels takes into account.
These figures come from the European Innovation Scoreboard and the Regional Innovation Scoreboard, created to assess the state of innovation in EU Member States.
In particular, the Regional Innovation Scoreboard (RIS) provides a comparative assessment of the performance of innovation systems in 240 regions of 22 EU Member States, plus Norway, Serbia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
In total, 21 indicators are considered to evaluate European regions, which are classified into four different performance groups: Thirty-eight regions were classified as “Innovation Leaders” (performance >125% of the European average), sixty-seven as “Strong Innovators” (100-125%), sixty-eight as “Moderate Innovators” (70-100%) and sixty-seven as “Emerging Innovators” (<70%).
As an EU Member State, Italy is a ‘moderate innovator’ trending greatly upwards: while innovation performance has grown by 12.5% on average, Italy has seen a leap forward of 25 percentage points since 2014, with more than 20 points gained from 2018 onwards.
The highest rates of increase since 2014 were in Campania and Basilicata, which outperformed northern Italy: however, regions with previously lower indicators can easily see higher growth rates.
We should also point out that the increase in the Italian innovation rate is part of a process of convergence and equalisation throughout the European Union: lower-performing countries generally have faster growth than higher-performing countries, so the innovation gap between Member States is slowly closing.
The highest rates of increase since 2014 were in Campania and Basilicata.
According to European Union data, the strengths of the Italian innovation system include the results achieved in terms of ‘innovative products and processes’, the ’employment impact of innovative companies’ and levels of ‘environmental sustainability’.
Most notably, between 2019 and 2021, there was a huge improvement in the performance on ‘Broadband telecommunications network penetration’, with an increase of more than 50 percentage points over the two-year period.
But there is still a long way to go to reach the more developed countries and regions of the continent.
Primary critical issues
The Regional Innovation Scoreboard indicates, in particular, a problem in the education of citizens: this is the most critical issue for Italy, the one that should be invested in to further improve the country’s digitisation process.
The challenge of the digital transformation is changing the way we think about homes, offices and cities: environments in constant connection with each other and with the outside world. This calls for a reassessment of the way work is organised, training policies at public and private level, and beyond.
There are approximately 7 million people of working age in Italy who lack digital skills.
In fact, there are approximately 7 million people of working age in Italy who lack digital skills: Collaboration paths between companies, schools and universities are therefore indispensable to foster training among young people and try to bridge the gap between the skills required by the labour market and the skills provided by the education system.
A regional breakdown
A closer look at the map of Italy reveals seven regions exceeding the national average within the category of ‘strong innovators’ (the second tier of the scoreboard), including Emilia Romagna, which ranks first nationally and 76th among all European regions; the Autonomous Province of Trento (85th) and Friuli-Venezia Giulia (89th); Veneto (95th); Lombardy (97th); Tuscany (98th); and Piedmont (115th).
A closer scrutiny of the Italian leader, Emilia Romagna, reveals strengths comparable to those of Europe’s most innovative regions: These are items such as ’employment in innovative enterprises’, ‘international scientific publications’, ‘private sector R&D expenditure’, ‘collaboration between innovative SMEs’.
However, Emilia Romagna still has room for improvement, particularly in the levels of tertiary education, in public sector spending on research and development, in the presence of ICT specialists, and in general in the digital skills of citizens.
However, one region that is perhaps most representative of the overall Italian picture, and in particular of the northern areas, is Lombardy. Its strengths lie mainly in the industrial sector: the turnover return from new products, the inclination of SMEs to innovate and their investment in research and development, innovation expenditure (investment in machinery, acquisition of patents or licences).
The critical points in Lombardy, however, concern the population involved in continuous training, patents, the population with a university degree, digital skills, and overall spending, both public and private, on research and development.
Calabria ranks 174th, yet it has been performing better in the EU index than in the previous 2019 edition, climbing up 24 spots.
The news that opens the door to greater optimism, paradoxically, comes from regions with less strength in innovation. The trailing edge of the Italian scoreboard is the Valle d’Aosta and Calabria, in 179th and 174th place respectively at European level, behind Sicily and Apulia.
Valle d’Aosta and Calabria, however, are areas that show awareness of the huge margins for improvement and of the work and investment needed to close the gap with the rest of the country. Take Calabria as an example: it ranks 174th, yet it has been performing better in the EU index than in the previous 2019 edition, climbing up 24 spots.
True, Calabria is nevertheless downgraded by the European Commission, included among the ’emerging innovators’ because it has relatively lower innovation growth rates than other European regions, especially considering the new indicators.
However, we can see that, for example, company innovation processes, the sale of innovative products and expenditure on innovation not linked to research and development have improved over the last year, while the weak points are precisely expenditure on research and development (public and private), the employment of ICT specialists and the filing of patents.