CLUSTERS AND NETWORKS THEMATIC WORKING GROUP
The Clusters and Networks TWG was established initially during the first phase of the ERIK Network. During this time its members focussed on clearly understanding the varying and disparate definitions of 'clusters' across the EU, together with an analysis of some of the experiences and activities undertaken by the Group members. In particular the Group looked at opportunities for the exchange of practice, and links to regional innovation programmes across the TWG member regions. A first draft outline of potential indicators was produced and circulated to the initial group for comment.
The debate as to the most 'appropriate' indicators for any aspect of regional knowledge assessment and understanding is likely to continue. For many regions different aspects of cluster activity and business networking will indicate key strengths and opportunities, whilst for others there may well be elements which do not appear to apply. However, key to the work undertaken within this group has been the ability to understand and develop the key elements for cluster development and sustainability and to identify how best these might be transferred to other regions across Europe.
The key steps in developing a cluster and networking strategy are set out below, but the success of the strategy is dependent on working with the strengths and weaknesses of the local economy - getting the evidence base right is an essential foundation.
The key steps in developing a cluster and networking strategy
What are the key features of clusters?
The key features of clusters have been set out in the EU Commission's guide “Creating Smart Systems”;
Clusters are based on systematic relationships, among firms. The relationships can be built on common or complementary products, production processes, core technologies, natural resource requirements, skill requirements, and/or distribution channels.
Clusters are geographically bound, defined largely by distances and times that people are willing to travel for employment and that employees and owners of companies consider reasonable for meeting and networking. Range is influenced by transportation systems and traffic, but also by cultural identity, personal preferences, and family and social demands.
Clusters have life cycles, which progress from an:
- embryonic stage , which can be generated by innovations, inventions, or inward investment, to the
- growth stage, where markets have developed sufficiently to spin off and attract imitators and competitors and to stimulate entrepreneurship, to
- maturity, which is when the processes or services have become routine, more imitators enter the market, and costs become a key competitive advantage, to
- decay, when the products become fully replaceable by lower cost or more effective substitutes.
Clusters are not defined by organisational membership, and while an association provides members with many real benefits, “free riders” are also parts of the clusters. By virtue of their location and common needs, they may also realise the same non-exclusive external economies as members of the cluster associations.
Clusters produce externalities, the “hard” externalities that produce a larger pool, greater variety, and lower costs of supplies and components, specialised and customised services, skilled labour, and potential partners, and the soft externalities that produce access to tacit knowledge of technologies, markets, and opportunities to network, and to aggregate interests and needs.
Clusters are defined by relationships. Ultimately, they are self-selecting based on how individual employers and institutions in a region define their missions, set their priorities, use their region's resources, and form relationships.
The TWG is led by the West Midlands region. Current members from the network and interested parties include the regions of Tuscany, Flanders, Småland med öarna, Bremen, South Holland, Western Macedonia, Western Greece, Piemonte, Veneto, Balearic Isles, Castilla y Leon, Banska Bystrica, South-East Romania (interested in all TWGs and has not expressed specific preference), Alentejo.
The Clusters and Networks Thematic Working Group is organising the final study tour of the Project to Veneto (Italy) on the 16th and 17th of January 2007. The Vega science park, the nano-technology and sport system clusters, the aero-naval laboratories, regional incubators, a chance to discuss issues related to regional clusters with representatives from all over Europe. Incorporated into this study tour also is an invitation to participate in Patterns of clusters evolution conference being held on 18th and 19th January 2007 organised by our partners.
Both the study tour and conference information are posted on this website.
Further information on the TWG is available from the lead organisation at:
Coventry University Enterprises Ltd, The Technocentre, Puma Way, Coventry CV1 2TT
To enable us to meet our objectives in the timeframe of the ERIK+ Network activities, it is essential that our approach and activities are clearly and concisely defined and that all TWG members are willing and able to input into the process. With this in mind we have set the following methodology and related activities:
- Production and distribution of TWG focus paper (March 2006)
- On-line TWG discussion on focus and indicator structure (April 2006)
- Draft indicators issued and reviewed (May 2006)
- Indicators agreed and input into database (end May 2006)
- Indicator report produced and on ERIK+ website (June 2006)
- Call for Best Practice Examples (June 2006)
- Identification of key good practice and case studies (July 2006)
- Preparation of initial case study materials (August - October 2006)
- Agreement on study visit location (September 2006)
- Study visit (January 2007)
- Final Case Study material produced (January 2007)
- Outline policy document available to TWG (January 2007)
- Final policy proposals agreed by TWF (February 2007)
- Production of Conference and workshop papers and web site documentation