The next steps for our clusters

Submitted by Björn Arvidsson on 31 January 2024


With the closing conference of the MEDIC-NEST and BRIGHT projects in Brussels on January 24th, it was clear that all the involved cluster organizations are passionate about 1) creating value locally, 2) finding collaborations outside their cluster, and 3) working on policy issues internationally to create the best conditions for success locally.

We often talk about internal and external efficiency. If we imagine an onion structure with different layers of dimensions, the own organization is at the innermost layer. Beyond that, we’ll find external dimensions such as the market one operates in, the national, international, and global contexts. All these external dimensions will always have a greater impact on the internal dimensions. Therefore, actors must work on their influence or understanding of several of these external dimensions to avoid sub-optimization. The pandemic or the war in Ukraine reminded us of this.

A cluster used to be a local or regional initiative to create economic growth through specialization, both geographically and thematically delimited. Today, modern cluster work is about identifying societal changes and creating conditions to meet them - and when done successfully with one's resources, it will generate economic growth. It may seem trivial, but it makes all the difference. These clusters are not geographically or thematically limited, they collaborate externally, and they learn from other sectors that are "ahead".

As cluster actors, we must contribute to transforming the cluster at the system level. For efficiency, operations cannot get stuck in management or focus on individual local actors - but must work to create the system change that is necessary to provide the best possible conditions for all actors, current and future, to be successful and contribute to the growth. And here, policy work, collaboration, and a holistic understanding of the large systems, or the external dimensions, are needed (to link back to previous arguments).

With MEDIC-NEST's initiative to create a meta-cluster and BRIGHT's continued collaboration beyond the project, these steps can be met.

However, some things that need to be resolved to succeed fully are 1) the local relevance of cluster actors for issues that their local actors do not directly see providing them direct advantages, 2) that policy work goes from raising awareness to "real" influencing work (in collaboration with others), and 3) finding ways to finance this transformation, which in many ways challenges existing revenue models.

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