The roll-out of the first All-Island cluster network aimed at the strategic development and operation of clusters on the island of Ireland, gets underway.  The Cluster Research Network is a pioneering cross-border partnership of The Cluster Centre, Ulster University, University College Cork and Munster Technological University.

Industry Clustering is recognised as a very valuable economic tool for companies and industry sectors for regional development and for national competitiveness. Regions successful in facilitating industry clusters have been found to have higher levels of productivity, research and innovation, employment and prosperity.

The Cluster Research Network project is being delivered with support from InterTradeIreland’s Synergy funding programme. Synergy is a cross-border cluster initiative set up by InterTradeIreland, the cross-border trade and business development body. It aims to scale cross border collaboration among SMEs and other players such as universities, third sector organisations and government agencies using cluster and networking supports.

Clodagh Barry, The Cluster Centre, the lead partner of The Cluster Research Network adds: “There is lots of good work being carried out and lots of ambition in this area but, up to now, the approach to clustering has been ad hoc to a large degree.  At this time, we lack an integrated cluster infrastructure both North and South.  This all-Island Cluster Research network is a ground-breaking departure and will focus on all of the different aspects of cluster development at local, regional, national as well as the international context”. 

“As industrial clusters come to the fore as key agents in our innovation and economic ecosystem, the Cluster Research Network is a welcome and key development in the growth of support our cluster economy and competitiveness.  The Cluster Research Network will promote better understanding and knowledge flow across industry, policy, academics and community, as well as building key collaborative infrastructure for the road ahead,” explains Clodagh.

Dr Eoin Magennis, Ulster University, says: “With the new 10X Strategy in Northern Ireland aiming to build priority clusters and explore ways in which cluster members might boost their innovation efforts, there is a window of opportunity to add value on an all-island basis to these efforts.”

The founding partnership aims to bring together an all-island network of stakeholders, including state agencies, policy makers, local government, academics and researchers, cluster managers and cluster member, to examine cluster opportunities and challenges in a common forum.

In recent decades, the development and promotion of existing and emerging clusters has become an instrumental and accepted part of industrial policy globally.  Prof. Eleanor Doyle, Cork University Business School said, “Delivering on cross-cutting priorities such as climate action and digitisation are possible through clustering channels that can amplify results.  These channels have been highlighted as valuable across Europe throughout the pandemic. The Cluster Research Network can consider where collaborations may generate impact.” 

As clustering comes into view across the island at both a policy and implementation level, great progress is being made in individual strategic and programming approaches. In recognising and paying tribute to these individual efforts, the Cluster Research Network recognises that a key problem is the lack of a common understanding and approaches to cluster-based economic development strategies.  This in turn makes it difficult to embed a culture of clustering consistently into the local, regional and national ecosystems.  

The Cluster Research Network will run six workshops starting this September to identify and understand current cluster needs and challenges across the island of Ireland.  The partnership approach provides key stakeholders with the opportunity to engage, contribute and inform the knowledge gathering and sharing.  As a result of this Synergy project, the Cluster Research Network will produce a common gap analysis and recommendations. 

Dr John Hobbs, V-LINC Research Group in MTU, believes “the CRN workshops are an important element to allow participants collaboratively input to identify the challenges and perspectives faced by cluster organisations, industry, academia and government and potential solutions from across the island for the first time. To create value for workshop participants clustering best practices from the Interreg Europe ecoRIS3 and FOUNDATION projects will be shared.”

You can keep in touch with the Cluster Research Network by contacting us.

Cluster Research Network