The Main Areas of Cooperation in Cluster Organizations
Actions undertaken within a CO are intended to achieve the common goals of a group of entities that driven by the ambition to achieve certain benefits joined the CO and became its members. Solvell et al. (2003) have listed six areas in which the key objectives of CIs are included, although not every initiative must implement the entire set of the goals: research and networking, policy action, commercial cooperation, education and training, innovation and technology, and cluster expansion. Focusing on selected areas of functioning, a narrow range of objectives can be achieved since, according to their research, initiatives with a longer period of experience (functioning better when compared to younger ones) do not set more objectives than those with a shorter experience period.
The research conducted by Solved et al. (2003) shows that the most popular objectives are distinguished in three out of the defined areas, namely in “Research and networking” (foster networks among people and establish networks among firms), “Cluster expansion” (promote expansion of existing firms and attract new firms and talent to region) as well as “Innovation and technology” (facilitate higher innovation and promote innovation, new technologies). In contrast to these findings, six goals turned out to be the least popular among the research CIs: two objectives in the “Research and networking” segment (produce reports about the cluster and study and analyze the cluster) and one objective in each of the following segments: “Policy action” (conduct private infrastructure projects), “Commercial cooperation” (co-ordinate purchasing) and “Innovation and technology” (establish technical standards).
Some of the areas mentioned above have also been emphasized in the publication “Europejska siec doskonalosci ...” (2007), which distinguishes five main areas of the CO activity - information and communication (a system of information exchange among cluster entities via member meetings, participation in events, a communication platform, newsletters, databases, the webpage), training sessions (vocational trainings, workshops and seminars, study visits, mutual learning), collaboration (maintained in various areas, including participation in joint venture with R&D institutions), marketing and public relations (e.g. provision of promotional and marketing materials, advertising, participation in fairs and visits to enterprises, lobbying) as well as internationalization (undertakings to internationalize the cluster aimed at opening new markets, finding new foreign partners, participation in international events and projects, cooperation with CIs from abroad).
It is worth noting that the effects of many activities highlighted in the areas presented above go beyond the CO borders. The very definition of a CO shows that this type of structure has a broader impact - not only on internal but also on external stakeholders. The research conducted by the authors of the “Greenbook” shows that CIs support the creation of new clusters and also serve to revive the older (and weak) ones, which indirectly enhances regional development. CIs increase the overall competitiveness of clusters and support their development. In addition, they contribute to the development of cooperation between the industry and the world of science, increase the competitiveness of cluster entities in the international arena as well as develop new technologies (Solvell et al., 2003).
Involvement in Cluster Organizations
The issue of involvement in the activities of a CO is a multifaceted matter and requires more than one perspective (depending on whose involvement is taken into consideration). It is worth highlighting at this point that the progressing globalization has a strong impact on the significance and nature of involvement that should be manifested by entities of various types participating in the activities of COs. The current high expectations in this aspect are directed, e.g. at leading enterprises that hold the greatest potential and define the mode of cooperation in the cluster) (Parrilli, 2019).
As pointed out by Solvell et al. (2003), the success of a CO is conditioned by the involvement of various environments and the commitment within the CO. In their views, what underpins a successful performance is the partnership across the triple helix, which involves not only the CO entities and public authorities but also academic communities. Cooperation of Cl can be additionally supported by intermediaries such as business-related institutions. According to the Solvell’s team, CIs are an example of private-public cooperation and reflect a new model of economic policy organization. They should be treated as the result of joint activities of various government structures, the private sector, universities, trade associations and other entities, which requires a new approach by all the partners. CIs, by going beyond the traditional clear- cut lines between the public and private sectors, compensate the deficiencies of each party (the public sector does not hold sufficient knowledge of the needs of enterprises, while the private sector is not able to implement various measures on its own to improve the quality of the business environment) and exempt the public sector from responsibility for the business environment which is required to be more involved in its development (Solvell et al., 2003). The key idea for this type of organization functioning is developing joint solutions beneficial for the industry and the region (both represented by a particular CO). Both sectors, namely the public and the private ones, must cooperate with each other in order to improve the overall business environment and thus achieve higher competitiveness (at the level of individual enterprises as well as across the region). This common goal motivates each party to active collaboration within COs.
The concept of COs also emphasizes the importance of the coordinator’s and the members’ commitment in the activities undertaken within a given CO. It is a prerequisite for implementing the goals set by the CO and its associated entities. Engagement (both at the level of the institution and at the level of actors - people representing their parent organizations in COs) has been recognized as one of the success factors of a CO (Lis & McPhillips, 2016). At the strategic level, this refers to active co-creation of the CO development strategy (by consulting the strategic directions of the CO development, setting and modifying common goals and intended activities). As far as the operational level is concerned, it involves, among others, participating in regular meetings and other events (fairs, training sessions and workshops, conferences), participating in specialized CO units (i.e. organizational units separated in its organizational structure and appointed to perform specific functions and tasks, e.g. the cluster council, the scientific council, the audit committee, the working group, the project group), initiating and implementing joint projects (also of the R&D nature), participating in incubation of new projects, and engagement in the area of internationalization and export expansion. What functions as an act of commitment and also a mechanism for maintaining greater involvement in the CO activities is the members’ participation in financing the CO by membership fees (Lis & McPhillips, 2016).
The recent years have enriched this picture with the special role of commitment of leading enterprises in the performance and development of the CO and the region in which it is anchored (Hervas-Oliver & Albors-Garrigos, 2008; Belussi, 2015). The central and regional authorities also play an important role nowadays as they create appropriate conditions for stable development of clusters. The old model of clustering (merging small- and medium-sized enterprises to increase their export potential) has lost its importance. The new model, on the other hand, stands out with completely different characteristics (globalization of production, and thus the transfer of the production part of the value chain not only outside the cluster’s area of activity but even outside the borders of the home country) (Gereffi et al., 2005; Henderson & Nadvi, 2011; Bailey & De Propris, 2014).
Because the engagement of CO members varies, three levels of commitment can be distinguished: the high, the medium and the low (or no) ones. There are specific profits associated with each of them, namely the lower the level of commitment, the smaller the pool of benefits that can be obtained (Lis & McPhillips, 2015). By contrast, substantial engagement, reflected in initiating various activities within the grouping as well as membership in specialized CO entities, is a characteristic feature of entities that have participated in the establishment of a given grouping, and thus have been involved in the CO performance since its beginning. This group is usually involved not only in activities that result in accomplishing particular objectives and goals, but also steps up their efforts to develop the whole CO and, in a broader perspective, a specific industry or region. Until recently, the leading enterprises mentioned above could be included in this group, however, owing to the change in the clustering model, the high involvement of leading enterprises has ceased to be obvious and various aspects of the cluster’s activity began to emerge. The literature reveals that researchers are trying to define factors that determine the commitment of leading enterprises in the cluster. One of them is the size of the enterprise - a factor that favors transfer of production to an area other than the one occupied by cluster members (Cowling & Sugden, 1997); another one is the specific nature of a particular industry (Turkina &c Van Assche, 2018). With regard to the second group, i.e. the one of the medium level of commitment, it includes entities actively participating in CO meetings as well as in task and project groups. The motivation for their involvement is generated by ample individual benefits resulting from their membership in a given CO. The third and largest group is usually composed of the passive participants of the grouping that show little or no involvement in the activities of the CO. Joining a CO, they are driven by a desire to obtain ad hoc benefits (such as access to information disseminated in COs, obtaining additional points when applying for EU projects as they are allocated due to the company’s participation in cooperation networks, etc.) which can be achieved without the need of a particular timespan or additional resources (Lis & McPhillips, 2015).
The involvement of actors (entrepreneurs, representatives of scientific institutions and public authorities) is the basis for the development of relations both within the CO and with entities beyond the grouping. It also positively affects the process of creating a group identity in COs. Therefore, a lack of involvement in cluster cooperation hinders the development of permanent and strong relations among the members and inhibits the integration process in COs (Lis & Lis, 2013; 2016). The lack of involvement in cluster activities is also, and perhaps above all, a harbinger of deterioration in the potential of the CO and the development opportunities for both - the entire structure and its components (e.g. other enterprises). In this context, it is very important to engage leading companies, whose activity for the cluster (especially maintaining their production and service activities, e.g. research and development tasks, within the approximate and common location of the components of a given CO) may play a preventive role against disintegration within the cluster structures (Parrilli, 2019).
Considering involvement in the activities undertaken within COs, it is also crucial to emphasize the role of coordinators who (are expected to) maintain the right direction of COs development and act as intermediaries for contacts among their member entities. However, this issue is hardly raised in the subject literature. While there are scanty works describing the involvement of companies in some processes of coordinating cluster activities (e.g. in communication) (Belso-Martienz et al., 2015), there is a major literature gap concerning coordinators (institutions/organizations/people) whose main task is to manage and coordinate activities undertaken by the cluster and within the cluster. Acting as the leader requires taking various actions to motivate the participants to become involved in the CO (Lis & Lis, 2016) thus it seems essential to recognize the distinctive role of the coordinator in cluster functioning and COs in future research studies. What serves as a good practice in some COs is the entry barrier that requires member involvement and verify commitment during participation period, which may result in excluding inactive entities from the subgroups formed within grouping (e.g. project groups) and, in extreme cases, removing them from the CO. Therefore, a high level of entities’ involvement in activities undertaken within a given CO may be the evidence of a correct member selection, an effective management of the CO as well as a selection of appropriate resources to achieve the goals set in specific geographical and market conditions (Lis & McPhillips, 2015).