One thing that all cluster practitioners seem to agree on is this: clusters are not clear cut, easily defined, or obvious. They grow and develop over time, as a function of the skills, resources, and innovations that a particular place provides to boost the competitiveness of firms in a particular industry or value chain. Across Europe, there are a wide variety of policy approaches to amplifying the benefits of clustering, and it can be difficult to know where to start.
For our all-island ecosystem, clustering is beginning to shine at the fore of national and regional economic plans, SME competitiveness and internationalisation, and innovation acceleration, so The Cluster Centre knew the time was ripe to build shared understanding of clusters and how to successfully implement them going forward.
To that end, partnered with IDA Ireland and InterTradeIreland, we hosted Ifor Ffowcs-Williams for the Cluster Development Programme 2021, and encouraged cluster managers, state agencies, higher education, and social enterprise to come together and learn from a global clustering expert. Delivered across four sessions: The What & The Why, The How, Joining the Dots, and Exploring Cluster Engagement, Ifor’s programme built understanding from the bottom up, and included the perspectives of industry, policy, and cluster manager with colourful examples from around the world.
I pass you over to David Burns of InterTradeIreland, who speaks on his experience in the programme and the importance of clustering:
I was very fortunate to be offered this comprehensive four-week training to help me in my new role at InterTradeIreland which includes managing a funding programme designed to support cross-border cluster collaboration. The structure of the course was excellent and facilitated the learning journey of all the participants. Beginning with a clear foundation of what clusters are and why they are important, through to more specific material for example for those in policy or managing clusters. Everyone attending the course was given a common understanding while still exploring specific aspects related to their own area. I especially appreciated the final day which allowed attendees to decide on the material covered. This tailored the course to the participants and produced a highly interactive final session which I felt could have gone on for a lot longer if time had allowed.
It was a privilege to have received the training from an international expert such as Ifor. His knowledge and experience bring much of the material to life. As does his passion for clusters and helping cluster players. He responded to emails I sent him outside of the lectures asking for specific advice on areas of cross-border cluster policy and public body support, for which I was very grateful.
No virtual meeting can replace the opportunities that a live event allows. Nonetheless, the team at the Cluster Centre did a great job of facilitating a seamless virtual offering which connected all four provinces and New Zealand! This event itself is a great chance to bring the key players in the ecosystem together and facilitated that ‘who-is-who’ element which is so important to cluster activities. We now have a common understanding of the best practices and I look forward to working with other attendees to develop the cluster.
The timing to participate in this event is perfect. We are seeing a growth phase in cluster development on the island of Ireland combined with a rapidly expanding policy landscape which places an increasing importance on the contribution of clusters to recovery and development plans. Organisations like the Cluster Centre, working with public bodies, and passionate cluster members will be critical for the coherent development of clusters across the island.
At InterTradeIreland we believe that clusters, like innovation more generally, should be empowered to cross borders where appropriate. I was excited to see so many examples of successful cross-border clusters demonstrated in this training course. Moving forward we can follow this international best practice building on promising recent examples such as the Fintech corridor.
Moving forward, those at The Cluster Centre know that this programme will have played an integral role in supporting the continued development of national and regional policy, the skills and knowledge necessary to execute projects as a cluster manager, and the important place research and innovation hold in the cluster ecosystem. We can’t wait to keep getting stuck in, working with our members and partners to deliver projects, training, and events.