The Partner Assessment Grid is aimed at supporting the catalyst SME to assess both the resources and strategic fit of potential cluster members by evaluating a set of key organisational factors.
The tool provides a versatile structure for assessing a partner’s “soft” strengths and weaknesses, enabling the catalyst CM (or the partner CMs if the cluster is already operational) to pursue a range of partner types. To receive consideration, a candidate must address a specific need and achieve an aggregate minimum score across a variety of evaluative categories, but it is not required that the potential partner meets each criterion on the list.The evaluation of the partner’s IC may appear particularly difficult at the formation stage, especially if the catalyst SME/founding cluster is not familiar with these concepts. The difficulty of evaluating “soft” strategic factors can possibly prevent companies from rooting their cluster/networks in well-established strategic objectives, which frequently results in the partnership failing to deliver strategic value meanwhile putting in serious risk the sustainability and survival of the cluster. The support of the CFT in this specific issue is critical.
It may happen that the CMs, uncertain of top managers’ expectations, will end betting for relationships (potential partners) that are either too conservative or too risky in relation to the company standards.
Given the relevance of this matter, it is highly advisable that the CM will not go through this process on his own, or provided so, to ask for the opinion of other key staff in the company (e.g. top managers) and jointly undertake a validity check.

Notes to Table 5.3.1:

Under “Organisational factors” (1) are those factors that are either related to the topic, have been roughly identified by the catalyst and therefore are cluster-specific, or have been pointed as KSF in the network/alliance literature. For instance, if the catalyst/cluster has identified “access to market” or “expansion of geographic coverage” as an important topic/goal (1st stage of the management cycle), it is expected that “aggression and speed” or the “market strength” of the potential partner will be a priority issue.
Ideally, the identification of these organisational factors shall be the result of the discussion and conscious reflection of the CM (and other catalyst participants) with the support of the CFT. The “Interviewer Guideline for the Analysis of CADIC cluster status and SME requirements” might be of help at this stage.
“Potential partners” (2) are primarily identified within the portfolio of relationships of the catalyst SME among those within the scope of the topic/goals initially outlined. For each potential partner every factor is evaluated according to the degree of alignment between the former and the organisation taken as reference (catalyst SME). If the cluster is already constituted the catalyst should be duly substituted by “the cluster”. Finally, an “Overall” (3) mark is obtained for each potential partner by globally considering all the individual marks.
As with the identification of the factors, it is desirable that the evaluation will also be the result of internal debate within the cluster.
Certainly, the level of depth and detail of the process may vary depending on several factors: the relevance of the topic involved; the pre-established duration of the partnership; the previous knowledge of the potential partner by the current cluster members, etc. For instance, it can be assumed that the more strategic the issue the more exhaustive, participative, and costly the process.
Finally, summarise the main results from the assessment as sketched in the Box, “Partner Assessment Summary” in next page.

Partners’ Assessment Summary

Make a short description of the SME catalyst (or the seed cluster if already formed): Industry segment; Turnover in the last 3 years; Degree of internationalization/Main markets; Experience with cooperation; Core competencies /Value. [You can easily gather this information from the “SME Interviewer Guideline”]
Briefly state the 1-2 main reasons that drove your decision. If some strong disagreement emerged about the selection of a specific partner, be bold to state the motives behind it. Take note of both the arguments and the person who raised them.
For the finally selected partners, write no more than three lines about what made them especially attractive. Focus on their strengths because these are what you will expect the selected partner to contribute to the cluster.

Important Remark: The individual characteristics of the people that will be directly involved in the network or cluster (CM of each of the partner firms) shall also be considered –e.g. professional and social competence and leadership skills are highly desirable. Trust and relationships are essentially crafted at this level. Moreover, particularly at the formation stage and until the cluster has accomplished certain degree of unity and own identity, it is ultimately a group of people with their own aims, fears and contradictions. So, looking after these important aspects of the human essence is also critical for the cluster to become a reality.