Developing clusters is a recognised way for regions to foster innovation and economic development. According to the European cluster observatory, around 38 per cent of all European employees work in 2000 regional clusters.
European regions face several challenges when developing or implementing their cluster policy. Some regions may have a mature policy that has been in place for many years, others are just starting out and may not know what the current practices are or if they are effective?
The European emphasis on developing smart specialisation strategies puts the onus on regions to look beyond their administrative boundaries to benchmark their performance and to integrate the 'outward dimension'. Clusters are increasingly looking towards internationalisation - how can regions exploit this potential?
Interregional cooperation has been helping regions overcome these challenges, and will continue to do so.
Interregional cooperation provides an opportunity for regions to benchmark the performance of their clusters and cluster policies. Through the exchange of experience, regions can learn from each other and improve their approaches.
"Interregional cooperation provides an opportunity for regions to benchmark the performance of their clusters and of their cluster policies"
This is what is called the 'outward dimension' in smart specialisation strategies: looking beyond regional administrative boundaries allows regions to better understand their strengths and weaknesses and to act accordingly.
The Interreg IVC Clusnet project, made up of 12 European partner organisations, adopted an interesting methodology for maximising the impact of the exchange of experience. A specific case study of a cluster management problem was prepared by the hosting region and sent to all other partners. A study visit was organised, followed by a discussion where each partner was able to provide input on how to solve the problem.
The specific policy recommendations that derived from the study led to the improvement of cluster policy in most of the participating regions. Interregional cooperation can also support the development of joint measures between different regions.
This more ambitious objective implies that the clusters of the different regions can share common objectives. Another Interreg IVC project, Clusterix, is an interesting example. The Swedish region of Värmland and the steel and engineering cluster of Stalverkstad were interested in 'competence mapping methodology', an instrument developed in lower Austria to identify the innovation potential within companies of a cluster and channel it towards new applications and business opportunities in other sectors.
As a result of staff exchanges and meetings, the steel and engineering cluster Stalverkstad included the competence mapping tool in a collaborative project with Swedish and Norwegian clusters. The project is financed from September 2013 until January 2016 by the national cluster programme of Tillväxtverket in Sweden.
Regional policymakers and organisations involved in cluster policy can access the bank of knowledge gathered under the Interreg IVC programme. Benchmarking reports such as those on innovation systems, the innovative capacity of small and medium sized enterprises or even creative industries, examine cluster policy cooperation.
Project good practice recommendations from Clusnet, Clusterix, or projects dealing with sectoral policy like automotive clusters, provide a sound basis for other regions to learn from. Interreg Europe, the interregional cooperation programme for 2014-2020, will continue offering opportunities for regions to learn from each other in the field of cluster policy.
Regions are invited to exchange their experience primarily on the cluster policies that are financed through the investment for growth and jobs programmes. Activities formerly financed by the regions of knowledge initiative are now integrated in the Interreg Europe programme. Interreg Europe is an increasingly important resource alongside the more familiar European funding programmes for clusters, such as COSME and Horizon 2020.