Level I "Integration at the Unit Level"

The name given to the first level of cooperation, “Integration at the unit level”, was meant to reflect the integrative nature of COs, as the overarching objective of cooperation within the COs under research (at this level) was the creation of a base network of relationships among cluster partners, which is the basis for the development of more advanced forms of cooperation (assigned to higher levels) (see Tab. 5.2, quotations 1-2).

This was a fundamental dimension of cooperation, which - to use a metaphor for a clearer picture -in the studied COs performed a role comparable to pouring foundations in the process of building a house. Though the elements which have undergone integration were - in principle - COs, it was individual human beings who were the actual subjects undertaking actions. Despite the fact that individuals delegated by their companies to serve as intermediaries with COs and their cluster counterparts have operated within clearly defined objectives set by their home organization (which in turn were directly or indirectly tied to the interests of the given institution), the efficiency of attaining those goals was nonetheless strictly dependent on the attitude, skills, and commitment of specific individuals. To develop this thought further, it could be said that it is generally hard to imagine the crystallization of the remaining three levels of cooperation if we were to gloss over the actions of integrating members of the studied COs. The single case in which it would be possible to develop the remaining levels of cooperation among the organizations without the emergence of the integrative level of cooperation would pertain to a situation in which the roles of the cluster members would be fulfilled by companies with existing positive relationships (which means that the stage of their de facto integration would commence prior to joining the CO itself). However, it would be enough to raise the number of participants of such a network to include new, previously non-integrated entities for it to become necessary to initiate actions with a view to building relationships - which constitutes the essence of the first form of cooperation within COs.

By analyzing the integrative level of cooperation with the use of the aforementioned cooperation markers in COs, it becomes apparent that in this stage of cooperation, the dominating perspective was an individual approach (in each of the proposed markers of the degree of advancement of cooperation in COs) (see Tab. 5.2, quotations 3-8).

In reference to “the interests of institutional members”, the individual approach translated to focus on those objectives and actions which resulted in obtaining individual benefits (see Tab. 5.2, quotations 7-8). Such an effect is primarily achieved through entering into positive

General objectives and cooperation markers

Selected quotations

Creating a base network of relationships among cluster partners

1 “Clusters exist to reduce the distance between companies, that’s essential. The cluster introduces conditions that allow us to whisper among ourselves”. (Cl)

2 “The participants of a cluster begin to meet, talk, discuss among themselves, develop relations. The cluster provides grounds for trust - very undervalued”. (D1)

Activities (individual)

3 “I would hardly call cluster meetings common activities. You attend those meetings as if they were a Christmas eve party. We attend them to listen, to gain something for oneself”. (B7)

4 “The coordinator organizes meetings and the companies delegate their people to get some benefit. Some people only want points and nothing more, while there are others who attend the meetings and say: 4ve paid, we’re in the cluster, so we’d like an offer for our company’”. (C4)

Goals (individual)

5 “We have meetings within our cluster. I’m not sure who, but someone signed contracts at the trade fair. Perhaps in Poznan or Dusseldorf. Then, it’s every man for himself. Each of us observes, initiates conversations, to get the most for themselves”. (A4)

6 “Joining a cluster itself is simple. Then, the hard part begins. Because questions arise as to the benefits for the organization the benefits of the time spent on meetings. It’s not easy, as companies have their own goals”. (C6)

Interests (individual)

7 “We have to gain as much information as possible, which we then, as entrepreneurs, in the comfort of our own manufacturing plants, offices, transform into something useful”. (A3)

8 “Many companies attend the meetings as a matter of habit, because they may turn out to be useful. There’s a group of people, companies, who de facto attend and are known to be in the cluster because they’re interested in reaping the most benefits for themselves”. (A6)

Source: Authors’ own elaboration personal relations with the representatives of one’s cluster counterparts. Of secondary significance is obtaining information on trade fairs that companies attended on behalf of the COs, as well as establishing contacts with representatives from institutions, organizations, or economic entities which could in the future perform the role of advisors, suppliers, or clients of products and services offered by the organization in question. The interests of the organization which are described as “individual interests” translate to using other entities with a view to strengthening one’s own competitive position. At this specific level of cooperation, this was achieved by obtaining individually focused “objectives of institutional members” (e.g. in the form of a push to broaden the company’s network of contacts to include potential partners) (see Tab. 5.2, quotations 5-6), which in turn was tied to engagement in activities of individual nature (e.g. the presence of a company representative during meetings in the CO, building personal contacts with representatives of other entities, etc.) (see Tab 5.2, quotations 3-4).

 
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