To find a topic for the cluster is the first step in the process of cluster building as recognized by the CADIC cluster management cycle. In accord, a particularly sensitive issue that will demand the maximum attention from the catalyst CM –and the rest of the partners when it comes to the negotiation phase and final agreement.

First and foremost, the topic has to be a pressing issue (consequence of a short term threat) or mean a significant opportunity of gains (economic or not), also in the short term for SMEs to buy in. Not only should it be tightly related to its business model and core but represent a challenge at stake or a problem to be solved in the next few days. Sense of urgency –especially if strategy founded – contributes to bind commitment, therefore making more feasible the buy-in by the top management team and the consequent allocation of resources to the cluster initiative.

What ultimately underlies these considerations is the capacity of the topic to motivate and mobilize accordingly all the cluster partners towards the common goal –or initially, key actors capable of engaging others in the clustering journey. This fact has important derivatives for cluster formation also for incumbent clusters with a longer trajectory like Atlanpole. In such cases, unleashing bottom-up clustering processes is firstly, and almost uniquely, a matter of the ‘individual company’, to which the definition of the topic is mainly a reinforcement element and subsidiary in the sense that it is not a requisite for the cluster system to develop. Defining the topic is not touch-and-go. The CFT should be respectful of the CM catalyst’s choice but at the same time reflection-igniting and provocative enough to effectively help the CM to find the kernel of the company’s strategic concerns.

The negotiations that might take place as a necessary step previous to the final selection of the topic could involve hierarchy considerations or surface power sentiments –e.g. between the catalyst CM and the TMT or, more commonly, between the cluster partners. So also in this hypothesis providing the catalyst with the arguments to back his gut is not a minor issue.

In the following pages you will find a couple of grids and a topics questionnaire that are aimed at untangling this search process and helping the CM (or the cluster) to identify ‘the’ topic. Through the topic the cluster and the cluster members open up to IC-driven networking and the benefits of collaboration.

There is no pre-set sequence in the implementation of the tools. Neither there is a preferred one. The CFT will decide on the appropriateness and suitability of using one or another (or a couple of them) depending on the issues involved and the level of clarity and knowledge the catalyst CM (or cluster partners) has of its business model and true strategic challenges, as well as of the potential benefits the cluster could bring to his company.

  • For instance, if the catalyst CM is rather aware of the SME business model and strategic needs, as well as wherein the cluster strategy may fit in and contribute to, it will probably not be necessary to go through the Topics Questionnaire, making the Topics Grid more suitable and straightforward.
  • Drawing upon the pilot clusters experience thus far it is possible to suggest that the Topics Grid is better suited for unleashing the discussion between the cluster members, and once the company is more or less clear about its priorities are and foresees the opportunities that the cluster may report it.

Both the CFT and the catalyst CM should understand and keep in mind the importance of this step. The topic sets the ground for the definition of the cluster’s goals and objectives, thereby unleashing and influencing the cluster journey throughout.

The topic is a lively element of the cluster endeavors. Although rather fix –at least it is so desired until the cluster reaches certain consolidation – it should be subject to change. As happens with any other element of the CMC-Cluster Management Cycle it should be revised whenever any of the key factors (environment, market, etc.) influencing the cluster changes, a typical case being the enlargement of the cluster or its refounding. The decision of the catalyst SIDASA-EBU to abandon –or put in standby– the GrInnANet initiative and push forward the STL cluster is but an expression of this statement.

For further information see:
The Collaboration Topic Questionnaire
The Cluster Benefits Grid