Commitment at Cooperation Level II

At cooperation level II, the first of the specific objectives assigned to this level - providing access to various resources within the CO - was possible to achieve without a large degree of commitment among the cluster members, provided that the given CO had access to a specific pool of resources and furthermore the pool was not reserved for a select group of entities. In the studied COs, the most major problem was to obtain access to material resources (such as a lab, a prototyping hub) and financial resources for the benefit of the cluster members (see Tab. 5.13, quotations 1-2). To start with, one should stress that the functioning of COs was not based on (and generally is not based on) supporting the members financially, but on the creation of the most favorable conditions for their development (though - paradoxically - for some companies, the vision of gaining quick and tangible financial benefits without the need of committing their own resources was the main argument in favor of

Table 5.13 Specific objectives and forms of commitment at cooperation level II - selected quotations

Specific objectives

Commitment

Selected quotations

Providing access to resources

Participation in subgroups (material and financial resources) Participation in training

1 “A machine park in a cluster - a hard undertaking indeed. We did not manage, though we discussed it. I know that such initiatives sprout up and are possible to implement”. (A5)

2 “Do training courses provide a benefit? Sure, but it depends on what kind. Are they tied to a current issue or are general in nature, which have no future. If someone arrives to tell us about EU programs and funds, that’s advisable, no doubt. I can always learn something new. Things change dynamically, new perspectives emerge”. (A4)

Facilitating the exchange of resources

Participation in subgroups (material and financial resources, human resources)

3 “I won’t buy a brewery to have some beer”. (A6)

4 “It’s hard to say when it comes to access to human resources, because the labor market is experiencing problems. At the moment, there are no workers, but here, we have no problems, we are doing well. We exchange information among companies and even exchange employees, you could say”. (B2)

Integration at the process level

Participation in subgroups (common supply system, common quality standards, promotion system)

5 “We have examples of such small companies, the development of which will be halted and with which no one will want to cooperate, if the potential partners would have to be responsible for the quality' of their produces. These companies don’t fulfill standards - rather, they attempt to avoid them. They have to reach those standards”. (B4)

6 “We have different examples of shared promotional activities among companies. For instance, two events that we will organize together for the fourth or fifth time: we will exhibit together during an international trade fair in Poznan”. (B3)

II. l-II. 3

Participation in

subgroups (informal groups)

7 “Groups are formed spontaneously. They are initiated by people. On Tuesday, we will initiate a new topic area. There is an individual who has specific knowledge and would like to gather several companies interested in the topic. He'd like to achieve his goal, but his egoism may prove to be beneficial to others”. (C2)

8 “We talk things over, but we form internal groups in which we can strengthen our cooperation, find topics, and discuss. It’s never done in a way that someone call me and we sit down and discuss within the cluster. [...] Because it’s a waste of time to just attend to talk things over. We create these topical axes which allow us to gather around, talk, and take collective action”. (A6)

Participation in subgroups - functional and working groups

9 “What we are missing is a clear distinction between ICT industries - e.g. a group of software producers, a design group, an instructional group - who is knowledgeable in a given field and who specializes in what. This should be a clear distinction”. (C5)

10 “The companies and the Cluster Council attempt to push and stimulate the cluster in the direction of task groups, because that’s where the action is. [...] Task groups are still the main motor of cooperation”. (Dl)

Source: Authors’ own elaboration joining their CO). Membership in a CO alone made companies closer to sources of funding: the members were able to obtain information about available funds (from, e.g. EU programs), find partners to apply for funds, open up their path to EU funds (in the case of multiple EU programs, membership in a CO translates to additional points in the application process and in some cases it is obligatory). In order to develop human resources, for the benefit of their members, the coordinators of the studied COs bought (or developed) databases, expertise, and specialist computer programs, which they made available with the use of repositories of knowledge. However, the experiences of the studied CO point to the fact that such solutions have little practical value.

The second specific objective established for the level of development of COs in question focused on enabling the cluster members to exchange (and supplement) their missing resources. The connection of parties interested in cooperating within this scope has already been made possible at the unit level of integration (on the basis of information exchanged in the course of direct contacts made during various meetings), but the largest efforts focused on exchanging resources between cluster members were made in COs at the cooperation level II. Because one of the roles of COs is to connect entities according to their surplus or deficit of specific resources, that is, resource owners (entities owning certain resources) with resource seekers (entities lacking in certain resources), the companies were provided access to a broad pool of various resources available to their cluster partners. The connection of partners has been made on the basis of the identification of sources of resources within the cluster (when the objective was the intensification of internal cooperation) and outside of it (when the objective was the search for external partners). The actions undertaken by the coordinators were not limited to cluster members. By drawing on their own networks of contacts, the coordinators attempted to match cluster members with entities from outside the COs, primarily representatives of the R&D sector (scientific institutes, universities) by supporting them in their pursuit to supplement their knowledge resources. This primarily pertained to companies with large innovative potential, prepared on the merits to cooperate with the world of science, and cognizant of the benefits thereof.

The basis for the development of such cooperative relationships was the efficient flow of information within COs. To cite the words of one of the respondents of the study - “the more the cluster members know about one another, the stronger the chances they will cooperate”. In effect, the objective of exchanging resources may have been achieved without commitment, though that required considerable effort on the part of the coordinators, who, by operating in the role of the intermediary, provided the parties with information on their mutual needs.

The study points to the fact that one way of improving the process of connecting partners in COs is to launch (with the use of IT solutions) a platform to collect and select information on the cluster members: their operational profile, market offer, production capabilities, and, first and foremost, their deficit or surplus resources (both material, such as machines and tool, as well as immaterial, such as the technologies used). However, as the results of the study have shown, one serious problem in this regard was the reluctance on part of the companies to disclose their state of ownership, especially in the scope of their human resources and know-how. Companies were reluctant to share not only their resources, but even information on their operations (for the fear of losing resources for the benefit of other companies). For this reason, according to the respondents, the efforts of the coordinators should primarily lead to reducing mutual distrust among the members, which could lead them toward more openness. The largest potential with respect to sharing resources lies in personal relations, but establishing such ties required commitment on part of the cluster members.

The studies also show that commitment facilitated achieving all three specific objectives set for cooperation level II. In the case of the first objective, by attending meetings and training courses, cluster members obtained better access to information, as well as had the possibility to develop skills of their new hires. In the case of the remaining two objectives, the efficiency of actions was primarily determined by participation in subgroups created within COs - informal groups or formal groups within the organizational structure (such as function groups or task groups).

 
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