Roles and Specific Objectives

The study has shown that despite differences among the four identified levels of development of cooperative ties, at each level, COs may take on the three fundamental roles: those of the Direct resource supplier, the Broker, and the Integrator. These roles have formed the basis of the identification of three specific objectives, which complement the three general goals defined for each level of cluster cooperation. Despite the fact that COs fulfill analogous roles at subsequent levels of cooperation,

Levels of cooperation

Roles and objectives

Direct resource supplier: providing access to resources

Broker: enabling resource exchange

Integrator: integration in various dimensions

Level I “Integration at the unit level”

1.1. Informer: Providing access to information

1.2. Information exchange platform: Facilitating the exchange of information

1.3. Social integrator: Social integration within the CO

Level II “Allocation and integration at the process level”

II.l. Donor: Providing access to resources

II.2. Resource exchange platform: Facilitating the exchange of resources

II. 3. Process

integrator: Integration at the process level

Level 111 “Impact on the environment”

III.l. Information

tube: Providing access to relevant information from outside the CO

III.2. Connector with the environment: Facilitating the exchange of information with key actors from outside the CO

111.3. Lobbyistvisionary: Participation in the development of the region and the industry

Level IV “Creation and integration at the organizational level”

IV. 1. Mentor: Providing access to knowledge and information reserve for trusted partners

IV.2. Common resource creation platform: Facilitating resource pooling to create common added value

IV.3. Organization integrator: Organizational integration

Source: Authors’ own elaboration each of the roles is marked with the specific nature of the given level. This equally pertains to specific objectives, which are strictly tied to the roles assigned to COs. Tab. 5.18 includes the roles taken on by COs at each of the four identified levels of cooperation, along with their specific objectives.

The first of the roles fulfilled by COs and identified in the generated concept (Direct resource supplier) focuses on providing the cluster members with access to a given pool of resources, while the second (Broker) pertains to enabling the exchange of resources among them. The pool of resources obtained in COs is dependent on the specific level of cooperation, as well as the roles fulfilled at that level by the CO. The resources which exist at all levels of cooperation are relational resources,8 which condition the development of cooperative relationships among members. With subsequent levels of cooperation, this kind of resource may become larger (which results in the strengthening of ties among select cluster members), determining access to other kinds of resources.9 In the role of a Broker, COs offer much better access to relational resources in comparison to COs in the role of a Direct resource supplier. In the first case, the essence of the actions undertaken at all of the identified levels of cooperation is to create connections among cluster members (and in the case of cooperation level III - also with entities from outside the CO), which - inevitably - has a positive influence on the development of relationships. The role of COs as Direct resource suppliers is, to a larger degree, focused on providing its members with specific material and non-material resources (assigned to specific levels of cooperation), while the development of relationships between the cluster members - which is happening incidentally, as the result of the undertaken actions - is a secondary goal. Figs. 5.210 and 5.3 present the two discussed roles of COs in relation to the four levels of cooperation.

Relational resources may appear in the places indicated by arrows, which symbolize the transfer of the remaining kinds of resources, while at the same time pointing to “points of contact” between COs (represented by their coordinators) and the cluster members (in situations when COs fulfill the role of a Direct resource supplier), as well as between cluster members (when COs fulfill the role of a Broker). In order to highlight the different natures of COs at each of the levels of cooperation, the concept introduced additional descriptors for the roles taken on by COs. COs in the role of Direct resource suppliers have been described as (in sequence, according to the levels of cooperation):

  • 1. Informer - when organizations provide access to information;
  • 2. Donor - when beside information, organizations provide access to various material and non-material resources;
  • 3. Information tube - when organizations provide access to
Cluster organization as a Direct resource supplier

Figure 5.2 Cluster organization as a Direct resource supplier.

Source: Authors’ own elaboration.

information from the environment, concerning key areas of social and economic life;

4. Mentor - when organizations provide access to information and knowledge reserved for trusted partners.

In the role of a Broker, COs fulfill the role of:

  • • Information exchange platform - when organizations enable the exchange of information among their members;
  • • Resource exchange platform - when organizations enable the exchange of information, but also various material and nonmaterial resources;
  • • Connector with the environment - when organizations enable the exchange of information with key actors from outside of the cluster;
  • • Common resource creation platform - when organizations combine the resources of their members with a view to creating common added value, including new knowledge.

In light of the generated concept, informational resources are also

available at each of the identified levels of cooperation, with the caveat

that at each level, the pool of available information is different. In

Cluster organization as a Broker

Figure 5.3 Cluster organization as a Broker.

Source: Authors’ own elaboration.

accordance with the principles of the generated concept, access to information in COs is determined by their level of cooperation, which finds its reflection in the roles given to COs (shift from the roles of an Informer and an Information exchange platform at level I to the roles of a Mentor and a Common resource creation platform at level IV). At level I, cluster members gain access to general information, primarily about other members, which is later expanded to information on the closest environment of the CO. At level II, the information becomes more detailed - adequately selected and personalized, that is, better tailored to the profile and the need of the cluster members. At level III, the cluster members gain priority access to crucial information about the social and economic environment, while at level IV, they gain access to confidential information. At this, the highest and the most mature level of cooperation, cooperation between cluster members also results in the creation of new knowledge. However, this knowledge is reserved for a select group of trusted partners.

It is apparent that the “weight” of the resources changes with subsequent levels of cooperation. They become more valuable (the larger

Characteristics of resources in a cluster organization. Source

Figure 5.4 Characteristics of resources in a cluster organization. Source: Authors’ own elaboration.

value of the resources enabled the companies to better react to opportunities and threats emerging in the environment), more rare (and therefore unique, which strengthened the companies’ competitive advantage over those entities which did not have access thereto), and harder to imitate by potential competitors. The diversity of the accessible resources changes as well - this feature could have been included in the value of the resources, but in order to underline the differences between the levels, the authors deliberately accounted for this feature of resources in COs. Fig. 5.4 (on the У-axis) shows the above-mentioned differences between resources, which arise at different levels of cooperation.11

Further differences between resources are made visible when we consider two of the identified roles of COs: those of the Direct resource supplier and Broker (Fig. 5.4, the X-axis). The study has shown that in the first case, the resource pool available to COs is very limited - limited to resources obtained by the coordinators for the benefit of the cluster members. For this reason - from the perspective of achieving and maintaining competitive advantage - of much bigger importance is the second of the roles fulfilled by COs, as it enables them to make use of additional sources of resources (at the disposal of cluster members). This not only considerably raises the amount of obtainable resources, but also enables their better adjustment to the needs of a given company.

Both roles of COs highlighted in the authors’ concept - Direct resource supplier and Broker - are consistent with the resource-based view (RBV), one of the most broadly used approaches in strategic management. In the RBV, the company is seen as a thread of particular resources, skills, and competences, which make it different from the competition. The resources are obtained from the market and then transformed - with the use of the available skills - into competences, which are considered to be resources of strategic nature (Amit & Schoemaker, 1993). The RBV also highlights the imperfect nature of the resources available to the company, which is incapable of producing or obtaining all of the resources it requires. One method of coping with this imperfection is to create alliances in the form of inter-organizational relationships of a non- hierarchical, non-market nature (Czakon, 2011; 2012). The main motive behind entering into such inter-organizational relationships and becoming a member of various collaborative networks (of which COs are an example) is the desire to gain broader access to deficit resources (Pfeffer & Salancik, 1978). Following this line of thought, it becomes apparent that not only the resources belonging to a given company, but also its ties to other market entities, which facilitate access to an extended pool of resources, may be treated as a source of competitive advantage.

From the perspective of the RBV, information obtained in COs (on, e.g. market opportunities) may be seen as an additional resource of the company, and the perception of such opportunities, and, first and foremost, capitalizing on them with a view to gaining (or maintaining) competitive advantage, should be seen as a unique skill in a given company. Relationships made within COs and the cluster community built upon them may considerably facilitate access to information flowing within the CO, but at the same time, weaken the flow of new information from “outside” (of the CO). The obligations to the community may “prevent members from participating in broader social networks” (Woolcock, 1998), ridding them of the possibility of participating in the external circulation of information. This outcome is undesirable, as information flowing in “lockdown” mode may be too similar and outdated (Granovetter, 1973). No CO is fully hermetic - it connects to the outside world by relationships established by some of its members. In accordance with Burt’s concept (Burt, 1992a; 1992b), these relationships are created by “keys” to the so-called “structural holes”, which should be understood as gaps existing between the remaining internal entities and external entities. The keys allow for new ideas and important information from structural holes to enter the CO (information on the market, technologies, management systems, production standards etc.), which then get across to other cluster members and, with time, disseminate throughout the entire CO. The idea of structural holes was accounted for in the generated concept by featuring cooperation level III - the first two roles defined at this level (that is, Information tube and connector with the outside world) pertain to obtaining key information from outside the CO.

In the generated concept, one should distinguish between information resources and knowledge resources. In the concept, the latter emerge (as mentioned before) only at level IV of cluster cooperation (hence the roles of a Mentor and a Common resource creation platform). Knowledge may take on different forms, which is reflected in the diverse classifications thereof. Scholarship usually divides knowledge into formal knowledge (or explicit knowledge) (Nonaka & Takeuchi 1995; Nonaka et al., 2000), which may be codified and disseminated in different forms without much effort (in the form of, e.g. documents, databases), as well as tacit knowledge (Polanyi, 1967), which is not as easy to codify and transfer, as it is inseparably bound with a given individual and collected on the basis of their experiences, often fully unconsciously. At level IV of cooperation, a phenomenon known as knowledge spillover would often occur throughout the COs. This phenomenon would often pertain to

Cluster organization as an Integrator. Source

Figure 5.5 Cluster organization as an Integrator. Source: Authors’ own elaboration.

tacit knowledge (Feldman, 1994; Audretsch & Feldman, 1996; Lawson 8c Lorenz, 1999; Beaudry et al., 2000; Beaudry, 2001; Aharonson et al., 2004; Bonte, 2004), which - in contrast to formal knowledge - is often hard to grasp and imprecise. For this reason, it is harder to transfer it over long distances even with the use of modern communication tools.

The third of the roles of COs identified in the study - that of an Integrator - refers to different dimensions of integration among cluster members (Fig. 5.5).

Integration within COs may be seen as a complex process, which consists - in the first instance - of social integration, that is, integration at the unit level, which encompasses individuals representing companies grouped in a given CO (the CO as a Social integrator). This kind of integration leads to the development of relationships within the CO and is characteristic of cooperation level I. Integration at higher levels of cooperation in COs is the result of social integration. Its specific nature is the result of the degree of advancement of cooperation among partners. At level II, cluster members integrate selected processes (CO as a Process integrator), which may lead to raising the quality of products (or services) offered by cluster members on the market or to lowering operational costs. Flowever, from a broader standpoint, it should facilitate initiating the most advanced forms of cooperation in the cluster. Integration at the highest two levels of cooperation pertains to uniting cluster members around common objectives (levels III and IV) and common interests (level IV). At level III, broadly understood integration of the industry occurs (CO as a Lobbyist-visionary). At this level, common goals are primarily the result of shared industry affiliation and geographic location (e.g. regional affiliation). In turn, at level IV, select cluster members gradually integrate organizationally (CO as an Organization integrator) because of common interests. The above integration occurs as the result of cooperation in the course of joint projects, the development of common products (or services), or launching joint business operations.

In light of the generated concept, social integration is the first and the most important stage in the development of cooperation in COs - the relationships existing within COs are fundamental with respect to the efficiency of actions. To draw upon Coleman’s concept (1988), companies (and other organizations) operating in COs are embedded in a thick network of internal relationships, which means that they function in “closure”, from which they gain particular benefits. The biggest benefit of “closure” is tied to the large degree of trust, which allows for a bigger exchange of knowledge, as well as access to privileged and detailed information, which are harder to obtain in another network structure (Uzzi, 1997). The mechanism of transmitting information under the conditions of “closure” is metaphorically referred to as “irrigation” (Owen-Smith & Powell, 2004), which means that not all entities in the network must be directly connected to one another in order to gain access to “common” information. Not only does trust influence the speed of accessing information, it also contributes to the strengthening of interactions among cluster members by allowing them to better understand and adjust to their mutual expectations (for the benefit of the common good). Beside trust, “closure” also leads to the development of other institutions (such as rules and regulations, norms, conventions, procedures), which are established and changed in the course of daily interactions, regular meetings, cooperation, and common problem solving (He, 2006). In effect, social integration is in principle meant to lead to the “closure” of a CO, with a view to creating a foundation for the development of subsequent forms of integration.

In turn, when COs fulfill the roles of a Process integrator and Organization integrator, they fall within the concept of the value chain, which has been developed and popularized by Porter (1985). In accordance with this concept, the source of competitive advantage rests in the differences between the value chains of competitors, which are the result of the organizational model and the execution of tasks within the value chain. For this reason, actions which prevent the company from achieving competitive advantage should be considered from the perspective of subcontracting them to other entities operating on the market, which in turn will be able to provide that competitive advantage. In effect, such an approach allows for the extension of the value chain outside of the boundaries of a single company. In accordance with this logic, the value chain becomes a supply chain, in which competitive advantage is gained collectively on the basis of value created jointly by the “extended company” comprising all of the entities connected within the chain (Handfield & Nichols, 2002). The supply chain forms the foundation for the development of a network of organizations engaged in (by backward and forward linkages in the chain) various processes and actions with a view to creating value in the form of products and services available to end consumers (Christopher, 2005). COs associating companies from the same (or similar) industries create favorable conditions for the integration of their actions into a single value chain. Looking through the lens of the integration of cluster members within the value chain, at the forefront we see cooperation based on vertical relationships, which runs along the value chain. Horizontal relationships between cluster members located at the same stages of the value chain form the basis for process integration (assigned to cooperation level II), which may encompass virtually all of the actions in the value chain, albeit which in COs pertains to logistics in the areas of supplies, distribution, marketing, sales, and after-sales service. Among the factors conductive to making and strengthening partnerships in the supply chain, scholars mention company similarity (especially in the area of culture and goals, as well as philosophy and management methods), or to put it another way - agreement (compatibility) with respect to particular areas of operation (Lambert et al., 1996) Integration at the process level (by, e.g. setting common standards of management or quality) can be treated as the first step on a path toward integration at the organizational level.

Another dimension of integration was highlighted at level III of cluster cooperation. The role of lobbyist-visionaries assigned to COs at this level points to their lobbying actions, which are targeted at the development of the region and the industry in which the cluster members operate.

Commitment

The last elements of the generated concept are different forms of commitment. Fulfilling the objectives (both general and specific) assigned to specific levels of cooperation in COs requires a specific degree of commitment on the part of the cluster members. The study allowed us to identify the key forms of commitment in COs and assign them to specific stages of development of cooperative relationships (Tab. 5.19). This means that thanks to their commitment in specific activities undertaken as a cluster, cluster member were able to fulfill objectives (and reap the benefits) assigned to specific levels of cluster cooperation.

At level I, the most fundamental form of cooperation was participation in meetings organized in COs, followed by participation in additional events organized by COs. At level II, commitment manifested itself in the participation in meetings and training courses, and, first and foremost, in the participation in task groups. At level III, commitment found its expression in participation in meetings with entities from outside the CO, but also on cooperating with other companies with a view to creating more favorable legal and administrative conditions for running a business and adjusting the educational profile in the region to the needs and requirements of cluster members. Arrival at level IV required commitment in the work of teams focused on the development of short- and long-term cooperation among cluster partners, as well as launching joint ventures.

 
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