“I have to sleep over it”, is a phrase we often use after getting overwhelmened by many new impressions, thoughts, or ideas. 4 weeks after the TCI Conference I slept more than once over it and still like to remember myself back. Some of the articles reflect my impressions from the Conference. If I would have to select one final overall statement then it would be the following:

“Critical success factors of a Conference with more than 350 experts on innovation are not mainly related to the topics that are selected but to the atmosphere and facilitation corridor that is provided for a fruitful and outcome oriented discussion between experienced participants!”

The real new insights during conferences are less so coming out from presentations themselves but from some ideas they are able to set free within the listeners mind. The exchange on these ideas and impressions can be promoted through a professional facilitation of communication. In that way this conference was much more interactive and fruitful than earlier ones I participated in. I discovered new forms of facilitation, interaction and exchange between practitioniers.

If I would have to select one of my main learnings during the conference then it would be the following:

“We will have to reflect more about how we can facilitate  communication and competition between business and institutional networks with the end to promote competitiveness. Cooperation in cluster promotion is just a means to  this end!”

The whole cluster and innovation system discussion is finally about cooperation and competition. On the one hand several TCI inputs and discussions provided interesting contributions on how to improve cooperation, how to get a deeper understanding about different mindsets, and about the importance to consider the change of mental models in our daily work. There is a need to understand better how we approach different human beings with different interests and backgrunds. What are more frutful ways to encourage a implementation-driven cooperation between businesses and relevant support institutions ?, is one of the key questions we will have to find more answers on.

On the other hand a deeper understanding of how to promote implementation- and demand-driven cooperation is just beginning. Cluster and innovation promotion it is not reached only through network facilitation, or only through understanding the critical human and institutional factors of cooperation. It is also about understanding and promoting competition!

The promotion of clusters and innovation systems have the objective to increase the competitiveness of a certain territory. And competitiveness is very much about understanding market failures, government failures as well as network failures that hinder competitiveness. It also involves a deeper understanding of the market forces, about the demand conditions and how existing and future businesses are challenged to react on these changing market circumstances in a more effective and successful way. Actually this topic of competitiveness and its element of competition  was rarely tackled during the TCI Conference. Nonetheless it is an essential one in times of globalisation.

A professional management of  such processes through practitioners, policy makers, consultants and businesses requires a competency in cluster facilitation that goes beyond network management but that is able to promote a reflection in businesses and support institutions of how to improve competitiveness along very concrete activities and learning loops.

Not only me but many practitioners and policy makers are coming every year to the TCI Conference to learn something new. Accordingly the title in Finland was “Learning Clusters”. Maybe one of the next TCI titles could be “lessons learnt for the future”, or “demand-driven clusters and networks: success and failure criteria”, or “Cluster facilitation vs cluster management: what do we need to change?” This would then encourage a reflection about market-, government and network failures we have experienced during the last decade as well as about our own role in cluster and business promotion. It would also force us to have a deeper look again into real practical examples that are closer to business reality.

I  like to remember myself back to the Conference in Finland because I did meet several very motivated and committed persons  with whom I would like to stay in contact. During the daily routine of our work the development of new ideas and the motvation to try things differently often gets insufficient attention. The TCI Conference is a place where this room is provided. Although  I had several nights to reflect about my impressions, there are still several ideas that are bouncing around in my head. And that´s gerat!

To the organizers and the TCI team: Thanks for the left bouncing ideas! It was a pleasure being there!

I myself have participated in 3 TCI Conferences.  Is this enough experience to say that this 12th one in Finland was the most innovative one? 3 are not 12, that´s true.  And it is also true that every conference might have had its special highlights. Then let´s phrase it differently: This conference was one of the most interactive and innovative one!

What makes a conference innovative? Before jumping directly to the answer let´s lean back and imagine the following:Gemstone_Gyro_Gearloose You are entering a large hall with many strange machines standing around, and a lot of noise. On a desk next to you many thumbnail sketches and drawings are lying around, in a laboratory at the room´s corner  there is steam bubbling out of pots and test tubes. What the hell is going on here?, you might ask yourself. Then you see a small person with red hair coming out of the other corner of the room. He comes closer to you, shakes you the hand and says: Welcome in my inventory hall . I am Gyro Gearloose, the best inventor of the world!

How would you react if he shows you his newest inventions, like one that makes chairs walking around, a table cleaning itself, a machine that can massage your head, or small robots who look like aliens but are very helpful? You might be excited, or you might think: for what does the world need this?

What has this to do with an  innovative conference or with large group facilitation approaches? A lot. In most conferences on innovation you are not finding new inventions in the program design, a lack of innovative interaction, facilitation formats and of the use of social media. You seldom get surprised in this sense. What we in general still experience in many of these events is a very frontal style of communication. The principles of this static approach are the following:

  • one is talking, the others are listening
  • one is the master who teaches the others, the others are the the ones who are there to learn
  • the presentation style is normally power point with many content, less visualisation and lack of use of different interactive media
  • the discussion time after the presentation is normally short and exchange of experiences often gets less attention

This structure of events is good if participants want to get mainly input of information. Nonetheless this input can also be given via a video show or through searching the internet for cluster expert speeches on on youtube. The main advantage of a conference like e.g. the TCI is the opportunity to exchange with experts, who are working in their daily live on cluster development issues, and who have collected so much experiences. The question is how to bring the participants together in the way where the share their experiences and expertise in the most effective way?

The TCI Conferences always used the format of workshops as one method for interaction. Nonetheless the workshops again were often, not always,  again based on Power point presentations from different experts.

So what was new in this TCI Conference?  For me it was obvious from the first moment I entered the TCI hall and saw the program and in which design some  “Gyro type” seemed to have been involved. It entailed new methods, story telling elements, and interaction. I then visited the cluster lounge that provided a nice atmospehere for conversation, a newsletter on the table that did not only looked nice, but also had interesting headlines and was even nicely written. When I then entered the plenum hall the chairs were not standing in line. Instead the whole hall was set up like a cafe, with many small tables standing around and decorated with nice smiling pumpkins.

there were other screenplay elements that enriched the whole design of the event:

  • the use of new media tools (like chat and recordings during the plenum sessions),
  • the  Learning Journey,
  • the Cluster Clinic,
  • facilitated working groups through a team of facilitators,
  • the TCI and Cluster Café,
  • evening tours like the “walk on the moon”
  • and the whole scene arrangement at the Kalevala night (including boat trip, arrival at the harbour with welcome drinks, candle- and fire design as well as traditional story telling).

Similar to the visit in Gory´s hall, what have you thought while being confronted by these new TCI Conference inventions? For some it was fascinating, for others strange or even totally crazy, some liked some elements and others not, some would like to go back to the traditional and comfortable style, others would like to continue these explorative elements. Finally it is all about innovation, about implementing something new, about inventing a new process, challenging the participants and taking the risk (and the opportunity!) of getting critisized and/or celebrated.

What was different in this Conference? It entailed

  • the emphasis on interaction (e.g. TCI Cafe),
  • different entrance points  for different characters (learning journey, workshops, academic summits, presentations)
  • a new style of facilitation through a group of facilitators in most of the working groups
  • a funny and professional style of moderation by Erkki Toivanen
  • presenters like Madeline Smith, Patrick Dixon, and Pekka Himanen who brought new elements of thinking into the Conference
  • elements mentioned above like the scene, the setting, the golden thread of the Conference.

Some of the participants felt overwhelmed by the self-organizing expectations the organization team expected. Useful would have been

  • a more profound explanation about the different new methods and instruments
  • a bit more “faci-pulation” in the sense of guidance and strure provision during the faciliation process of the working groups
  • an introduction into the “screen-play of the week”
  • as well as a short introduction about the interrelation between the term “innovation” and the new style of the Conference design

New inventions and innovations of products or processes cannot and do not have to be perfect on the first spot. Gory Gearloose and the TCI organisational team knew that and took the risk. What we as participants have to learn is that invention and innovation is about doing things differently and about doing different things. And it is about having the courage to try out these new paths.

There is much to learn from the innovative style of the Conference in Finland. Going back to the traditional frontal and power-point-packed design would be a discreditation of the innovative learnings that were made. This Conference will hopefully be seen only as a starting point for the further use of innovative tools and methods with the objective to create an even more interactive and learning oriented environment. There are additional elements that could be integrated e.g. like open space technologies, more effective workshop structures, and additional facilitation methods.

he TCI conference needs to become a place where experts from around the world do not only talk about innovation and innovation systems but also use their meetings as a playing and learning field on new formats of change facilitation and interaction. Let us support this process, so that Dubai will not be a step back to tradition, but a way forward to more innovative exploration.

This TCI Conference is the 12th one and has created a lot of networks and friendships.  In additon 12 years of exchange on experiences also have contributed to many learning processes.  But how can they be summarized? In an interview with Dr. Göran Lindquist we reflected about the learnings of the last 6 years.  Lindquist is co-author of the famous Cluster Initiative Green Book and other TCI publications  (see reference below).  The whole podcast interview can also be downloaded or listened here.

“What have we learned since 2003?”, was the first question I discussed with Lindquist. uiring the the exchange of thoughts several learnings came up:

  • in 2003 still everybody wanted to understand what a cluster initiative “is” or “is not”. Today everybody knows it and the cluster approach is widely accepted
  • many practitioners wanted to find “a one size fits all solution” instead of being open for diversity and different cluster approaches. Today the cluster discussion benefits from these diverse experiences
  • the cluster discussion has moved from the question of how a cluster initiative should be promoted, towards new topics like value chains, and in the last two  years from there to innovation and innovation systems and more technology-push approaches
  • Evaluation and impact monitoring has become an important topic because the many initiatives that have been promoted since the 1990s have been pressured to demonstrate results after several years of support

For Göran Lindquist the discussion has moved from a simplistic black-white perspective towards a more relaxed, profound and diverse one. “In 2003 we still discussed for example if a strong government involvement in cluster initiatives is either good or bad.  During the last years we have learned that government involvement is not the relevant success criteria. Much more important is the quality of involvement“, said Lindquist.

What are the main challenges for the future discussion? was the final question of the interview. For Lindquist there are two main challenges:

  • First, we need to understand more about evaluating our work on cluster promotion. For him it is clear that evaluating the soft aspects of cluster initiatives will stay to be difficlut also in the longer run. But it is good that many initiatives are now trying to develop different evaluation methods which will contribute also to different insights on this topic
  • Second, a challenge is still the question of how to involve not only small but also  large companies in the initiatives. How is it possible to strengthen these localized aspects of business linkages between these companies?, is a question that still has to get more attention

There is a third challeng I myself have emphasized: the discussion needs again to become more focused on the question what businesses learn from the initiatives and how to promote and facilitate such a learning in the most proper way.

Dr. Lindquist, thank you for the interesting reflection!


P.S.: Further information on Initiative Books:

Some of the TCI learnings were published by the TCI network in several Cluster books who still can be seen as groundbreaking publications on international experiences of cluster initiatives. The TCI Conference became the place where the books were presented:  It was like that in 2003 in Gothenburg, where the Cluster Initiative Green Book was presented to the public. It provided an overview about  cluster initiatives world wide and was the first attempt to provide an overview about different formats of cluster initiatives. A follow-up book on cluster initiatives in developing and transition countries – the “Bluebook” – was launched in 2006 in Lyon. In 2008 on the TCI Conference in South Africa the Red Book was presented focusing on challenges on evaluation and key succes criteria in initiatives.

Especially the Green book became one of the groundbreaking publications for cluster managers and policy makers who started to become interested on the promotion of cluster initiatives.

I think I am not the only one who feels quiet exhausted after 4 days of cluster and innovation discussions. It was a great time but after the end of the TCI everybody needs a weekend to relax and get the thoughts and impressions settled. It is at least like that in my case. There is still a lot I will write about and interviews I have done which are not on this blog yet.

In the next days I will still write about

  • the issue of language and terminology we use as practitioner

    s on the topcis of cluster development and innovation promotion and how it distracts us from the main important aspects

  • The TCI Cafe we facilitated and its outcomes and insights
  • the impressive thursday evening boat trip and its innovative way of using story telling to get peoplein a state of emotion
  • a reflection on the main important TCI insights from my point of view
  • My worries and recommendations for the next TCI Conference in Dubai. Just one comment on that: please use the innovative approaches of facilitation we experienced in this Conference and do not go back to the traditional style!

Additionally to these articles you will soon find some further interview recordings here with

  • Dr. Göran Lindquist, the co-author of the Cluster Greenbook: in the interview Lindquist will reflect with me about the cluster development discussion since the publication of the Greenbook in 2003
  • Madeline Smith (see article and speech recording below), TCI board member, about what she means when she talks about “breaking mental models” and following a more system thinking approach to cluster development
  • Ifor Ffowcs-Williams about cluster facilitation and its difference to cluster management as well as the challenges we have to face in the future

I wish you a relaxing weekend! Come back to this side and let me know your comments!

P.S.: I do not know if you know: at the webside “Learning clusters” you can watch many live video recordings. Have a look under the link “Conference programme” and under the “main conference” according to the different days.

In quite not few of the presentations and inputs during the Conference there is no word mentioned about the challenges of businesses to stay or  become more competititive. A lot has been said about policies and strategies on innovations, concepts, research projects and the new design of funding programmes at the EU-, national and regional levels.  If we brainstorm e.g. in workshops on main criteria of sustainable competitiveness only 2 from 35 answers are related to markets. One might get the impression that we feel quite comfortable when clustering ourselves together to reflect about innovation while loosing the aspect of competitiveness out of sight.

This should be a provocative statement and also understood accordingly. Nonetheless, my impression is that the more we talk about radical, incremental, process, product and system innovation it seems that we loose sight of the market. Although technology-push activities are necessary in some aspects, the pull elements are nearly not mentioned anymore in this Conference. Some years ago we very much

  • discussed the logics of regional economic development and the driving importance of demand conditions (see e.g.Porters diamond),
  • and wanted to understand and promote the national (or global) value chain systems and its business relations between suppliers, producers, big buyers and SMEs  and customers (see e.g. Porters five forces).

It seems to me that while focusing on the discussion of innovation and R&D promotion, the market falled off the agenda somewhere in between the whole complexity. This is quite contrary to the findings of international studies. Let´s just mention 2 main findings from the European Commission  and UNCTAD reports. The presentation of Mette Quinn (see workshop 4 on Wednesday) on creative industries and service clusters in Sweden points out that most of the innovation emerges inside businesses due to their intensive learning processes from customers as well as from creative ideas of their own employees.

This is a valueable insight for the service sector of a very industrialized country. If you look at the latest UNCTAD LDC technology report you see that most of the innovation learning processesof  SMEs in less developed countries also come from their customers, suppliers as well as other producers.

R&D in industrialized as well as developing countries play still a very very marginal role in the promotion of innovation. Maybe there are trickle-down effects. For sure they are somewhere. Nonetheless:, isn´t it time to consider these real innovation realities more intensively, approaching the analysis of innovation systems again much more from the business perspective.

Michael Enright said in a workshop session: “85% of real innovations are coming from businesses and are demand-driven. 99% of the innovation promotion programmes are focusing on technology-push approaches.”

This is an astonishing imbalance, is it not?

How many real business companies involved in cluster initiatives are in this hall?, asked Patrick Dixon from Global Change Ltd. straight to the audience. “No, no, I do not mean the consultancy businesses who try to get some contracts during these days!”“Nobody, ups! But do you not want to sell your regions to them, that they come to boost innovation in your localities? “

When the world changes fast, keep looking further ahead” was the title of his lively, comedy and preacher style speech on the 3rd day plenum session.  If you have not been in the session, have a look at you tube to get an impression of Dixons innovative style of presentations on different business topics. Or you look and listen to a live video recording from the session here.

According to the Conference workbook Dixon is one of the leading international business consultants of multinational companies. Much more important is that he provided an insight into the business and change realities he works in. And if he talks he likes to put the finger into the wound: “The point why businesses are not here is: they just do not get your messages! (see Calvin comic below)

Calvn and Hobbes in their best! Dixon is not only a good performer while running through the audience, changing slides like a maniac to reap burst of laughter form the listeners. 100s of  nodding heads in the hall demonstrated that he speaks out what many others think but cannot say loudly in their daily work life.

For me the main message he came up with, although not new but in a very straight way, was this one: “Businesses are the ones who are most innovative. And if we do not understand and talk to businesses, how will we understand innovation?”

Clusters are not made by governments or public bodies, and we have to consider that in our daily life. What then is our role? We need to understand better the complexity of business processes and the changing environment in which businesses operate. Accordingly we ourselves have also to reflect about our promotion approaches, communication and facilitation formats with businesses.

Persons who want to promote innovation have to be innovative in their approaches themselves. And they have to be open put into question their own thinking and action, ask further questions, look for new answers and new ways of doing things. And last but not least they have to be able to reflect about their own role as “change facilitators”! The 3rd day of the TCI Conference focused very much on the question of how we as practitioners learn, how we interact and with whom do we interact while working?

“What are our guidng mental models that drive our initiative and our work?”, asked Madeline Smith from  Ekos Ltd in her great morning input. Often cluster practioners and policy advisors are very much driven by their own mindset of how the innovation system should be set up, should work and how we should intervene.  “We need to change” says Smith, “challenging our cognitive barriers”. Her insights were related to her Scottish Enterprise study “Exploring cluster dynamics using the system thinking methodology” in which she empasized the need  for a more reflection loop-oriented intervention approach (see graphic).Smiths Systemic Dynamic loop to Innovation

In this study and in her speech she emphasized an issue which can also be seen as a golden thread of comments during the workshop discussions here at the Conference: “One of the issues encountered by many public sector bodies when developing a clusters strategy is that much analysis of the industry sectors only gives a “snap shot” of how the cluster operates.”

So how can we encourage learning in our cluster and in other economic initiatives  that go beyond a snap shot perspective?, is a key question that has not been sufficiently tackled in this Conference. Smiths answer: “Start with pilot projects close to businesses, get different perspectives involved,  work with a multidisciplinary and creative team”. And listen more to businesses, because they are the drivers of innovation!

You can download the speech of Madeline Smith here.

The second day of the TCI Conference can actually be seen as the official start. Whereas I asked myself yesterday where the 350 participating experts might be, today it became obvious that they really arrived. And it was an interesting start.

Further shift from cluster debate  to innovation systems provide new insights

The presentation of several cluster case studies at the second day did not really provide many new insghts. But what can be observed during the last TCI conferences and even more at present is the shift of discussions towards innovation systems. Most of the discussions were based on national innovation systems as well as transnational innovation systems (see e.g. Baltic Sea initiatives) than regional or sectoral approaches.

Interactive elements get higher attention in the  Conference ´09

In difference to the earlier conferences which were very much input and presentation-driven, the organisational team here in Finland involves more interactive elements. Small signs on the tables ask people to participate actively and prepare themselves with a key question they want to get answered during the Conference Additionally a cluster lounge has been set up where experts can meet each other on different topics and share concrete experiences in small groups. Tools like “cluster clinic” and  “learning journey” are on the aganda.

Facilitating trust promotion between public and private sector becomes even more important than in the past

One main insight for me from the day: Trust is still on the agenda and gets addressed nowadays in a more systemic way The Academic summit provided different research insights in this regard. One of them was of special interest: The role, nature and evolution of trust in innovation ecosystems, from Kirsimarja Blomquist (downloadable here, in blue box). Is this topic not old enough to be left out? No it is not and maybe has been tackled only superficially in the past.
Blomquist demonstrated that the determinants of trust in innovation networks have to been analyzed from a more systemic perspective. She emphasized especially 2 critical factors, which were marginalized in the discussions during the last years but underline the soft but critical aspects of innovation systems:

  1. the individual capacity of people involved (micro level) to trust and the “willingness to be vulnerable” as one key human quality for drivers of change and a prerequisite to create interpersonal and organisational trust
  2. the importance of societal and cultural trust at the meta level which enhances again the individual´s propensity to trust as well as the interpersonal, interorganisational and community levels of trust

Although the question on cultural heritage as well as individual elements of trust have been mentioned in the industrial district discussions in the 1990s, Blomquist demonstrated again its crucial importance as well as the lack of intervention approaches to address these factors. Whereas the systemic competitiveness approach has addressed these meta and micro elements of change of human and economic systems, the innovation system debate has marginalised this aspect during the last years and focused more on the macro level policy discussions and institutional meso level .

Need for better change facilitation to overcome divide between public and private sector

It is crucial to consider again more into debt the topic of trust especially to overcome a further divide between the public and private sector in the context of the promotion of innovation systems. Do we not often as consultants and researchers loose the contact to our target group, the businesses? Are we not often driven by our meta ideas when we discuss about e.g. radical innovation requirements without being really entrpreneurship-driven ourselves? Do we not often like to talk about networks without really understanding the business insights of the companies?

What we will need is a closer sensitivity about the business rationalities, our own mindset and interests that drive us as stakeholders involved. Additionally we need more facilitation knowledge on how to tackle the micro elements and meta elements of trust.

Mr. Pekkarinen, Minister of Economic Affairs during Tour ADuring the Tour A on spearhead clusters like bioenergy, machines and equipment, and housing construction the participants were able to meet the Finish Minister of Economic Affairs, Mr. Mauri Pekkarinnen. In his short speech he gave a good overview about main success elements as well as challenges of the Finish innovation policy and practice.

The recording of this speech can also be downloaded here (see right blue box with different recordings).

In his  speech Mr. Pekkarinen pointed out the history of the innovation policy in Finland since the beginning of the 1990s. At that time a strcutural crisis demonstrated the need for change. The decision was made to focus on key knowledge-intensive sectors related to comparative advantages of the country. Between 1991 and 1994 Finnland increased its R&D spending about 70%, opened the telecom market, created a national education and innovation council and in parallel promoted bottom-up expertise programs . In the last decade Finland was able to demonstrate remarkable growth rates between 3 to 4%. During this time several companies in the wood and ICT as well as paper sector became world leaders.

At present Finland provides the 3rd highest GDP spending on R&D after Sweden and Israel. But what comes after R&D? How to assure that knowledge creation also is demand-driven?

Mr. Pekkarinen pointed out that the strategy to focus on specific areas of competence was successful in Finland. Nonetheless the main challenge of the country will be to commercialize the created R&D knowledge. Mr. Pekkarinen:  “We have to catalyze our knowledge more effectively into national products on the market. Until now the R&D is mainly public sector-financed. We will need to see that our knowledge-investments are also recapitalzed through more private sector success in the national and international market.”

With this comment he closed his speech emphasizing the need for an an even more demand and applied-oriented approach of innovation in Finland.

FragezeichenThis question is one we as mesopartner often ask our partners when we want to foster a more business- and demand-driven approach to innovation and cluster development.

The question is related to one of the biggest challenges in cluster and innovation policies: how to undermine a too much supply-driven and public sector initiated approach. One´s you start with it you run into danger to create high expactations. At the same time you might loose contact to the real demands of businesses. This question is for us also the golden threadof this blog. We would like to come always back again to this question, and comment on it while listening to discussions and presentations during the Conference.

Do y0u already have an answer for yourself on this question? Please let us know!