By Dr. Christian Ketels (Harvard Business School and Stockholm
School of Economics)
With the launch of the "pôles de compétitivité"- effort, the
France government has made regional clusters an important element
of its policies for growth and employment. And France is not
alone among its European partners: Some Spanish regions, Catalonia
and the Basque country in particular, have used cluster methods
for many years, as have Denmark and the Netherlands. Sweden,
the United Kingdom, German regions, and Finland are examples
of more recent adopters. And there are many examples outside
Europe of countries applying similar ideas.
Evaluation is becoming an increasingly important theme in these
initiatives. Data is needed to more systematically select appropriate
clusters and define action agendas for theme. And data is needed
to evaluate the impact of these actions, not the least to provide
politicians with evidence that they can put in front of the
voters and tax payers that have to support these efforts.
To evaluate clusters, they first need to be identified. This
is where the Cluster Mapping Project, initiated by Professor
Michael Porter at the Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness
(Harvard Business School), provided a significant step forward.
He looked at the actual distribution of economic activity across
space to identify in which industries employment is geographically
concentrated rather than widely spread, and which individual
industries tend to locate together, i.e. form clusters. This
process allowed the creation of 41 clusters, each defined by
a set of detailed industries. For each region of the U.S., there
is now data on the level and growth of employment and wages
as well as other economic performance indicators (available
at www.isc.hbs.edu). These cluster definitions have also been
used to map the cluster structure in Sweden, and are currently
applied to all 10 new EU member countries.
To evaluate the potential for cluster growth and to inform policy,
information about performance outcomes is not enough. It is
critical to furthermore understand the business environment
conditions at a specific location that make it more or less
feasible for companies in the cluster to reach high levels of
productivity and innovation. Such data is, however, hard to
get across the different dimensions that matter, especially
if one is looking for comparisons. Both so-called "hard" statistical
data on issues like infrastructure or R&D spending and survey
data that solicit the subjective views of companies are useful.
The not-for-profit Foundation Clusters and Competitiveness,
an initiative of the Catalan government and other European regions,
has created a survey tool that enables regions to create such
data (www.clustercompetitive-ness. org). It helps to take stock
of how the managers that take decisions in companies view their
location to inform effective efforts to upgrade the cluster
To finally evaluate cluster policies, an array of indicators
has to be used. Economic goals, such as the cluster's employment
and wage growth, are ultimate goals of cluster policies but
because they are also influenced by many other factors they
are a problematic short-term indicator. Changes in business
environment quality, especially in those areas targeted by cluster
initiatives, are another candidate for evaluation and more direct
related to policies. Repeated surveys of the kind discussed
above can deliver such data. Finally, operational performance
is a direct reflection of cluster policy quality although it
is not a policy goal in itself. Through international surveys
of cluster initiatives (see the Cluster Greenbook on www.cluster-research.
org) we are getting data towards being able to benchmark cluster
initiatives against the operational best practice in the field.
Cluster policy is changing. It used to be an exciting field
somewhat at the fringe of traditional economic policy, driven
by very committed individuals from government, companies or
academia that believed in its potential. It is now becoming
more mainstream, with emerging professional standards for structures
and processes and with more fact-driven evaluations throughout
the cluster policy process. Cluster policy is no magic bullet
but in its increasingly mature character it becomes a powerful
approach to strengthen regional and national competitiveness.
It will be exciting to see, how these new tools are being adopted
in the "pôles de compétitivité"-effort.