Conclusions of the conference ‘Strengthening Cluster Policy Cooperation in Europe’, Warsaw

Conclusions of the conference ‘Strengthening Cluster Policy Cooperation in Europe’, Warsaw, 20 – 21 October 2011

We need to create a more holistic innovation policy

Creating a more holistic innovation policy: that was the major challenge laid down by Reinhard Büscher, Head of the Unit Support for Industrial Innovation at the European Commission’s DG Enterprise and Industry. Büscher was one of the speakers at the conference ‘Strengthening Cluster Policy Cooperation in Europe: Looking Ahead to a New Policy Agenda’, held in Warsaw on 20 – 21 October as part of Poland’s EU Presidency.

In line with the principles of the ‘Innovation Union’ initiative, Büscher emphasized that innovation cannot be viewed merely as the results of research and development. R&D accounts for only half of all innovation; the other half consists of non-technological innovation and innovation in services. This means that it is essential to involve end users and to respond flexibly to the needs and challenges of today’s society. Innovation involves both those who ‘generate’ a problem and those who help solve it. The toughest challenges facing today’s society are highly complex – ageing populations, access to water, intelligent cities, and the sustainable economy. Challenges such as these require various types of innovations and involve a range of stakeholders from both the public and private sectors – and their cooperation must be coordinated. As information systems develop to create a world of increasing openness, there is a pressing need for contacts, partnerships, more intensive networking and knowledge-sharing. These processes of cooperation lie firmly within the domain of clusters – whose task is to manage, coordinate, and maximize synergies. Clusters thus play a key role in innovation – and the importance of effective cluster management is increasingly being seen as a priority across Europe.

New innovation policies are based around the principle of excellence. Excellence is a key requirement cutting across all levels of innovation – from world-class science to world-class European clusters capable of achieving global competitiveness – and of course this requires excellence in cluster management. In response to this need, the European Commission has launched the European Cluster Excellence Initiative (ECEI). This year’s calls for projects within the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP) reflect both ECEI activities and the support given to non-technological innovations (e.g. in the creative industries) by the European Cluster Alliance (ECA). Another relevant initiative is Innovation Express, which supports transnational cluster cooperation to create research and innovation partnerships benefiting SMEs.

The potential for innovative development stems from the ability to integrate regional, social, industrial, competitiveness and innovation policies using holistic tools such as clusters. Mikel Landabaso of DG Regio emphasized the need to utilize the potential of clusters in building and implementing new strategies – such as smart specialization on a regional basis or support for emerging industries.

These were the key conclusions reached by the European Cluster Policy Group (ECPG). The Group’s recommendations to EU member state governments include supporting international cluster links, identifying and supporting emerging sectors, and maximizing excellence in clusters and their members. The new infrastructure of national cluster associations can play a major role in achieving these goals. A panel focusing on the implementation of the ECPG recommendations in individual countries was chaired by Tea Petrin.

A report entitled ‘Clusters Are Individuals’, presenting the results of benchmarking carried out across 18 cluster programmes, has found that European countries have highly developed systems for supporting clusters. However, the report also warns that it is not sufficient merely to channel funding into clusters: in order to achieve truly world-class levels of excellence, it is also necessary to provide consultancy and training tailored to individual cluster needs. Experience from Finland, Norway and Sweden shows that long-term (7–10 years) but flexible support for clusters produces excellent results. It is also essential to carry out systematic monitoring and evaluation of the results and impacts of cluster support programmes, including a sophisticated system of measurable indicators.

The Polish Agency for Enterprise Development (PARP), the organizer of the Warsaw conference, has achieved some outstanding results in this regard. The Agency runs the national funding programme for cluster organizations (of which Poland has around 100). It has recently carried out and published a study of all Polish regions analyzing the local innovation environment and the potential of sector-specific clusters and their members. Another study – Benchmarking of Polish Clusters 2010 – shows the strength of the country’s cluster system, which can provide inspiration and stimuli for our efforts here in the Czech Republic.

The Warsaw conference was a high-quality event. It confirmed the determination of the European Commission to support clusters while also ensuring that they meet the most demanding criteria for excellence.

For more information see the PARP website: http://www.pi.gov.pl/eng/chapter_95609.asp

Pavla Břusková, President, National Cluster Association