Ever since clusters and company networks have been detected as a major driver for innovation, regional and national competitiveness, policy has been setting-up cluster programs and supporting cluster initiatives all over Europe, connected to expectations of economic growth. The recent Europe 2020 Strategy explicitly mentions clusters and networks as important elements in smart specialisation strategies, providing a favourable business environment to foster competitiveness and innovation, epecially for SMEs. More so, common understanding exists of the critical role of professional cluster management to foster world-class clusters and the permanent renewal of Europe’s industrial base.

In the last decade, a lot has been done on analysing cluster performance and development, as well as identifying major drivers and obstacles for inter-firm collaboration. Studies and surveys have shed light upon the questions: what makes clusters successful? What makes them fail? Even though the underlying mechanisms of inter-firm collaboration have not yet been fully elaborated, major drivers for a successful cluster development have been detected: apart from the influence of external factors like customer demand, sufficient financial resources, access to technology, regional infrastructure etc., studies revealed, that soft factors like the commitment of cluster members, management abilities, trust, or strategic orientation account for the success of a cooperation initiative – hence, factors that are not predefined externally but are a result of the behaviour, practices and effort of the cluster companies themselves. 70% of all cluster initiatives confirm that the companies themselves are the most influential parties regarding the governance of the collaboration. But what about the skills of companies for getting engaged in cluster governance successfully? Are they prepared?

The discovery of these aspects has driven the attention of cluster policy to the company dimension and kicked-off a discourse about the instruments and tools that can support clusters in managing their network effectively from bottom-up, training and professionalising their “collaboration skills”. Hardly, the cluster will be able to seize emerging opportunities, improve its innovation capacity, and ultimately achieve world-class status, if the companies that make it up are not intellectual capital (IC) enabled and collaboration driven –i.e. have a strong and dynamic intangible base and systematically foster the value of collaboration as part of their strategy.

For years, cluster policies have been neglecting the need for managerial abilities for SMEs that are able to respond to the challenges to a regionally, nationally and globally interconnected economy. While large companies, in extreme case multinational firms, have been building and enhancing cooperation, collaboration and networking structures and competencies during the past decades, internationalisation still poses major challenges on small companies. Today, questions about effective and professional collaboration management in SMEs beyond infrastructure, technology and financials gain more importance and open up a new field of investigation for practitioners and researchers.

The project “Cross-organisational Assessment and Development of Intellectual Capital – CADIC” has been initiated to take a closer look at those issues, that enable and shape daily cluster work “in the hidden”: trust between members, commitment and motivation, a shared vision and common understanding of the cluster goals, the ability to learn and change etc. are crucial success factors that provide the basis for successful inter-firm collaboration.

Hence, CADIC starts from the single companies rather than a cluster management level (see also CADIC Cluster Facilitation). But the company is not the only level it focuses on. Because collaboration and trust are essentially individual-centred phenomena, CADIC also highlights the relevance of managing this dimension through the whole process of cluster development. CADIC aims to support companies in learning how to collaborate, opening up their mind-sets towards collaborative business actions and finding new business opportunities jointly with others. The CADIC team strongly believes that the key to long-term competitiveness of SME lies more and more in professional inter-firm management abilities and collaboration readiness!

For more background information about clusters and success factors for successful management see:

CADIC Alliance Management