Smart specialization and participatory processes in green path renewal. Analysis of the forest-based bioeconomy in sparsely populated regions in the Nordics

This paper examines two atypical sparsely populated regions and their experience implementing a strategy of forest-based bioeconomy through smart specialization. Smart specialization is increasingly promoted as an opportunity for green transformations. Indeed, its recent evolution from S3 to S4 is an effort to address environmental sustainability challenges alongside regional development. In this paper, we argue that one of smart specialization’s early stages, the entrepreneurial discovery process (EDP), can help establish a basis for the green transformation of traditional industries located in sparsely populated areas. The EDP is a participatory process that gathers diverse actors interested in developing a common economic sector, mostly through innovation. We explain how multi-actor participation facilitate understanding innovation as a problem-solving process requiring the input of actors outside (but including) the firms. As the cases show, this can unlock the potential of place-based multi-actor interventions to identify and mobilize pre-existing conditions and resources that, when combined with a common agenda, can influence green path renewal. In our cases, those pre-existing conditions are a culture of collaboration, knowledge, infrastructure and access to natural resources. The common agenda is to transform the regional economy into a forest-based bioeconomy.