Research Stage 2
At stage 2, the research was rooted in the case study methodology. Its goal was to apply the generated concept of the trajectory of the development of cooperative relationships and to empirically test its usefulness in selected COs. When selecting the method of sample selection for the study, the authors took into account the needs of the study, resulting from the posited objective and two fundamental criteria deciding on the adoption of a specific framework in this scope: the level of analysis and the approach to the representativeness of the sample. Because of the desire to develop a substantive theory for the adopted empirical research area, the same groups were included in the sample as at stage 1, i.e. formalized COs, though it was established that representativeness is not essential at this stage. Given the above criteria, at this stage of the study (similar to stage 1) the authors have applied strategic sampling, which manifested itself in completing a set of meticulously selected samples comprising a corpus of empirical samples allowing for the best possible application of the generated concept. However, in contrast with stage 1, during which the authors have adopted the logic of extreme case sampling, at stage 2, the authors have selected very typical cases (Patton, 2002; Flick, 2018), i.e. ones for which success and failure are proportionally average among most cases. Another significant difference between both stages was the fact that the sector of operations, which was the main criterion differentiating the studied COs at stage 1, at stage 2 was the main criterion pertaining to the maintenance of a specific level of similarity between COs. The authors assumed that the study will include COs functioning in the same sector of the economy. This would enable them to observe differences between organizations of a very similar profile, which would enrich the generated concept with new observations. They also assumed that the studied cases should be elaborate enough to reveal the experiences of diverse forms of cooperation undertaken at each of the four identified levels of cluster cooperation. This required for the sample to include very mature COs, considering - similar to stage 2 - their age (at least 5 years), size (at least 20 members) and scope of undertaken activities. In the case of the last mentioned criterion, it was assumed that the studied COs should have at least a regional scope of influence, develop diverse forms of cooperation (internally and externally), as well as display a high level of activity in the international sphere (a high degree of internationalization). The level of maturity of a given CO is also attested to by holding certificates issued by the European Secretariat of Cluster Analysis as part of the European Cluster Excellence Initiative (ECEI). The ECEI certificate is a quality label; cluster management organizations that are benchmarked after the ECEI system have to meet strict criteria and demonstrate their continuous commitment to excellence. For this reason, the authors strove to include in the sample COs with at least the Bronze Label of the ECEI. In the course of sample selection, the authors also strove to maintain an appropriate level of differentiation between the COs in question. The authors have adopted the country of residence of a given CO as the main differentiating criterion, in the belief that the national culture, as well as the institutional framework and the cluster policies set forth in a given country, have significant influence on the functioning of the CO. It was decided that the research sample will comprise European countries, in which a cluster-based policy is developed both at the national, as well as regional level. With reference to the selection of the entities and the individuals representing the selected COs, the researchers focused on the coordinators, on the assumption that - as the entities managing COs - they have the fullest knowledge of their functioning.
By adopting the above assumptions on the selection of COs, for research at stage 2, the researchers have selected the energy sector for its large development potential resulting from current socio-economic trends tied to environmental protection. An important matter with regard to the selection of this sector was the specific nature of the cooperative relationships between entities representing this sector of the economy. In the energy sector, very diverse forms of cooperation are established, aimed at both short-term business relationships made on the basis of project-based operations (i.e. something which was the domain of COs from the ICT sector, researched at stage 1, as well as long term relationships developed among entities in the value chain which is characteristic of COs from the metal sector). In the assumption that the required high degree of internationalization is manifested in the participation in international projects, the COs were chosen among COs participating in the COSMENERG project (Cluster Excellence project in the Central and Eastern European network of COs in the field of (eco- and bio-) energy, renewable energy and environmental technologies, cofinanced from EU funds within the COSME program (European Cluster Collaboration Platform, 2016). The project had been held in the years 2016-2018 by SolarTech Investment Design Development Consulting Limited Liability Company (ArchEnerg Cluster) and pertained to the development of cooperation among European clusters from the energy sector (from Poland, Serbia, Romania, Hungary, and Germany). The consortium saw the participation of five COs from different countries: ArchEnerg International Renewable Energy and Construction Innovation Cluster (Hungary), Green Energy Innovative Biomass Cluster Romania), Netzwerk Energie & Umwelt e.V. (NEU e.V.) (Germany), Baltic Eco-energy Cluster (Poland), Ecopanonia - Cluster Eco-energy and Eco-culture (Serbia). The aim of the project was to develop professional services in the area of business support, which would considerably support economic growth and competitiveness. In the end, three COs were selected for the research sample: Green Energy Cluster, ArchEnerg Cluster and NEU e.V. Table 4.3 provides basic information thereon.
The studied COs have manifested similarities in multiple areas. They were formed at a very similar time - the oldest cluster, ArchEnerg Cluster existed for 13 years at the time of the study, while the two remaining clusters, Green Energy Cluster and NEU e.V. - for 9 years. The clusters are also similar in size (consist from 70 to 80 members). All of the COs operate on the basis of the industrial district model, with a dominant share of small and medium-sized enterprises operating in the same or related industry, with the lack of a central point, around which companies would focus. The COs are managed by non-profit organizations (associations). Small differences between ArchEnerg Cluster, Green Energy Cluster, and NEU e.V. are manifested in the way of launching the COs and their territorial scope. The first two COs were created as a result of a bottom-up initiative (both were initiated by companies), while NEU e.V. is an example of a top-down initiative.
ArchEnerg Cluster has been founded in 2007 as the result of an initiative of four companies with a view to promoting a socio-economic model rooted in renewable sources of energy and building energy awareness. The managing entity of the CO is SolarTech Nonprofit Kft. The root of the operations and the production base for ArchEnerg
Cluster rest in green energy. The residence of the CO lies in the Csongrad County in Hungary in Szeged, where over half of the 80 cluster members have their residence (the remaining members are located in the neighboring county, with one-fourth residing in Budapest). The cluster attempts to develop cooperation among the companies, R&D institutions, educational institutions, and public authorities. In 2015, ArchEnerg Cluster has been awarded the Gold Label of the ECEI.
Green Energy Cluster has been founded in 2011 on the basis of prior activity of the Association for Green Energy Cluster with the aim of raising interest in the production and utilization of solid biomass, which is the most important renewable energy source in Romania. The managing entity of the CO is Asociatia Green Energy (with its residence in Sfantu Gheorghe), legally representing the cluster and having an executive role. The operations of this CO focus on networking businesses, research organizations, universities and public administration in order to enhance cooperation, stimulate innovation and spread knowledge in the field of solid biomass, which in consequence should contribute to the shaping of a sustainable economy and society. Green Energy Cluster comprises business operators - enterprises from the field of biomass, representatives of the area of research (universities, research institutions in the field of biomass) and public authorities and other catalyst organizations. In 2013, Green Energy Cluster received the Bronze Label of the ECEI and in 2016, the Silver Label.
NEU e.V. has been established in 2011 as a platform for cooperation connecting entities operating in the energy and environmental sectors in the Leipzig region. The aim of the NEU e.V. is to create lasting partnerships that work toward an environmentally sustainable and prosperous Leipzig region by enabling cluster members to cooperatively develop ideas, realize projects, and improve existing business models. The activities of NEU e.V. are based around the cluster activity of the city of Leipzig and the Energy & Environment e.V. Network, registered as a club with 9 founding members. In its activities pertaining to the management of the CO, NEU e.V. continues its strict collaboration with the city’s Economic Development Office. Among its ranks, it features large corporations, SMEs, research and educational institutions, public administration, unions, and dedicated individuals, who work in common to develop and implement new projects and services in the field of energy and environmental technologies. In 2012, NEU e.V. has been awarded with the Bronze Label of the ECEI.