We were delighted to host Dr. Nicola Watts. In this webinar she explored the role and diversity of Innovation actors in the Innovation ecosystem, the inter-relationships of clusters, and the Seven Principles which underpin good clustering practise.

Dr Nicola Watts is a Strategic Management & Innovation Ecosystems Consultant, and a former Cluster Founder and Leader. She has worked across more than 20 countries in a range of sectors including – Agrifood, Education, ICT, and Natural Resource Management. She is highly skilled in Clustering and Smart Specialisation, Place-based Development, Collective Impact, Systems Thinking, Governance, Capacity Building and Strategic/Collaborative Leadership.  Nicola is also an Adjunct Professor with Federation University’s Business School and a co-chair of TCI Network – Oceania Chapter (For reference the TCI is the leading global network of people and organizations working in clusters and innovation ecosystems around the world). Nicola’s is currently finalising a digital ‘Collective Leadership’ short course which provides practitioners with insight and to support reflective practice in relation to shifts away from ‘heroic’ individualistic leadership (‘ego’) towards collective leadership across ecosystems (‘eco’).

In her presentation, Nicola invited us to peer through a lens of good cluster infrastructure, and the impact that can deliver. Nicola presented that Clusters naturally emerge where businesses work together to form a shared learning platform, and shared her own insight on what constitutes a cluster ‘an industry-led, collaborative network, who works together to tackle opportunities and challenges, too big for any one business or organisation to tackle on its own’. We learned that clusters shared value is now extending beyond business outcomes, to tackle also social outcomes and environmental outcomes, along with a new type of clusters – the virtual cluster.

Nicola examined Clusters in the context of the Innovation ecosystem, where the networks and the connections of a Cluster can unleash innovation. Nicola drew on the Global Innovation Index to examine the performance of the Australian Innovation ecosystem, in the context of what strengths, gaps and weaknesses need to be understood and tackled. In looking at the crowded space of Innovation Ecosystems, we were invited to reflect on ‘How well is our Innovation ecosystem functioning? Where Australia is looking to support more connectivity across all of the actors, Nicola questioned ‘Do we also need to join the dots’?

In her presentation, Nicola shared her Seven Principles that underpin and define a successful Cluster: Co-location, Collaboration, Co-innovation, Connectivity, Capability, Communications and a Commitment to act. The insights on each principle provided rich insights and experience which moved from the local context and extended across the spectrum to place-based, smart specialisation and national competitiveness.

Nicola advocated the need to have a Cluster Chief Storyteller, to nudge and deepen the context by sharing authentic stories of innovation, collaboration, transformation, cluster successes and failures. The role of the Clusters and Cluster Managers was clear. Nicola stated the need to support the Collective Leadership of the eco-system, as opposed to the current approach which resides in the ego-system ‘Clusters need to build collective leadership, and not be the collective leadership’. Clusters build social capital, trust and fill the wide spaces. Nicola highlighted the need to push pilots projects and small scale initiatives in order to explore ideas and possibilities.

Where we draw on the Australian experience, we can arrive at this dynamic mix where Clusters become agile, adaptable and can pivot. In looking to our own Cluster future, we need to look at how we support Cluster capability development and how we strengthen our Cluster ecosystem. The closing statement gathered up the lessons on offer with ‘Clusters are a dynamic learning journey’.

The Cluster Centre supports Cluster development and building the Cluster Ecosystem.  We support Cluster Development & capacity building by working with Individual Clusters & Policy Makers.  We surface common conversations on cluster challenges we are facing collectively.  We host Cluster-2-Cluster dialogue where Clusters, Networks, Trade Associations, Research Gateways can learn and knowledge share from each other.

You can download Nicola’s presentation for free HERE.