Local Strength for Global Reach

Changing behaviour
All of our communities have examples of passive clusters; they are not hard to identify. But unlocking the status quo to move to proactive clustering requires behaviour change across all participants in the cluster. Webs of informal as well as formal linkages are required with collaboration at multiple levels. In each country I have worked in I have found that building the trust to enable strategic discussions across the cluster requires time and commitment.
For firms this change implies the acceptance of porous boundaries with both complementary and competitive companies, and through that, addressing the problems of isolation and enabling increased specialisation.
For local government in particular, change implies moving clusters to the front seat on their economic development agenda, accepting subtle but critical role as catalyst and understanding that cluster boundaries can overarch political boundaries. For universities and other government funded organisations proactive clustering implies building closer alignment with the private sector, more effectively targeting their publicly funded activities and reducing the time lag between public and private investments. For all participants, active clustering implies that short-term steps are identified that address long-term issues, and culture of teamwork is established to upgrade the cluster.

Balancing analysis & action
I have found that the balance between analysis and action varies with each cluster initiative, but should lean towards early action generating early benefits. The depth of analysis required as precursor to action depends in part on the cluster’s culture and size. For many clusters, even where there is little social capital, agreement can be quickly reached on the early development agenda and initiatives started.
The confidence gained from small benefits enables more substantial and strategic initiatives to be undertaken. Formal benchmarking and analysis can come later.

Providing neutral corner
The availability of an independent catalyst is key in facilitating the development of clusters, particularly in helping to build the necessary web of connections and to remove grid lock. This is often provided by proactive government agency, usually at local level, acting as the initial catalyst through providing its neutral corner. Once leadership team is established, the facilitator should continue as member of this group. I recommend that this support be long term.

Establishing cluster leadership team
A leadership team drawing together the senior stakeholders from across the cluster is an essential ingredient in proactive clustering process. There is key role for the facilitator in forming this team, empowering the participants, and ensuring that the strategic agenda continues to be upgraded. Clustering is an inclusive process; the workload needs to be shared.
Over time the cluster organisation needs to be formalised. In my experience existing trade associations often provide an inadequate base, being too broad geographically and too narrow in scope and capability.

Building cluster portfolio
The economic development focus of community should be on collab-orative engagement through clustering, rather than focus on specific clusters. Many local governments have yet to move beyond support for their tourism cluster. The simultaneous develop-ment of number of clusters within locality generates healthy competitive pressures between teams, and an ability to identify cross cluster issues.
Weak initiatives within cluster should be discretely sidelined; the support of specific clusters terminated only if absolutely necessary.

Conclusion
Clustering interventions are low-cost, high impact route to building local strength with global reach. Major upgrades to the competitiveness of cluster are possible, starting with the support of skilled facilitators.
Far from Bologna, in New Zealand’s southernmost city, the limited resources of the local government are being used to fund two ?Enterprise Connections Coordinators’. It’s great start.
Summary of talk delivered at OECD Ministerial Conference, Bologna, by Ifor Ffowcs-Williams, Cluster Navigators June 2000 hyperlink mailto:[email protected].

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