Do Top-Down Cluster Policies Succeed in Fostering Social Capital and Innovation?: Some Insights from Italian Cases

Do Top-Down Cluster Policies Succeed in Fostering Social Capital and Innovation?: Some Insights from Italian Cases

Silvia Massa (University of Genoa, Italy) and Stefania Testa (University of Genoa, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-875-3.ch014
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In the last decades, the cluster approach to innovation has become very influential among policymakers. Clusters are recognized as the primary locus of social capital (SC) and civic engagement and are thus able to foster company innovativeness. This chapter investigates the effectiveness of top-down cluster policies in creating new SC and the ability of this SC to create new intellectual capital (IC), hence improving firms’ innovativeness. For this purpose, two case studies about top-down clusters in Italy were developed. While in literature the SC-IC-innovation link has been largely investigated as well as the power of traditional clusters to promote SC, to the knowledge of the authors, the same power has not been investigated with reference to top-down clusters. The purpose of this chapter is to investigate such links, thus contributing to fill a gap in the extant literature. Examination of the cases in this study revealed almost opposite results in terms of the links investigated.
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Since the seminal work of Kline and Rosenberg (1986) innovation has been increasingly considered as an interactive process. This relatively recent view frames innovation as the result of a process whose success rests upon interactions and exchanges of knowledge involving diverse inter-depending actors. Landry et al. (2002) review the evolution of the concept of innovation from the 1950s, when explanations of innovation were based solely on tangible forms of capital, to present knowledge-based innovation derived from social networks. This more socially embedded concept of innovation has led to new innovation policies aimed at creating a social environment which is able to stimulate entrepreneurship and collective learning, as well as social prestige and acceptance of innovation (Park, 2001). A stream of literature involving social-embedded innovation underlines the importance of regional resources for innovation processes in the more globalised economy. Proximate relations, localised learning and phenomena such as regional clusters and regional innovation systems (cf. Schmitz, 2004, p.2) are increasingly recognized as fundamental drivers of competitiveness of firms and industries. According to Porter (1998b, p.77): “paradoxically, the enduring competitive advantages in a global economy lie increasingly in local things – knowledge, relationships, and motivation that distant rivals cannot match”. Two concepts belonging to the family of territorial innovation theory (Moulaert & Sekia, 2003) have demonstrated particular resonance in academic and policy circles: regional innovation systems (RIS) and clusters (Cooke et al., 2004; Acs, 2000; Porter, 2000a). Even though both concepts are closely related, they should not be conflated. Isaksen and Hauge (2002, p. 14) define the latter as “a concentration of ‘inter-dependent’ firms within the same or adjacent industrial sectors in a small geographic area”. A RIS, on the other hand, is defined as “interacting knowledge generation and exploitation subsystems linked to global, national and other regional systems” (Cooke, 2004, p. 3). Several authors compare and contrast the two approaches (see e.g. Isaksen, 2007, Asheim & Coenen, 2005). This chapter takes up the issue of regionalising innovation policy by focusing in particular on the cluster approach. This approach, rooted in the works of Michael Porter (1990, 1998b, 2000), has become very influential among policymakers (see e.g. OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), 2007; LEED (Local Economic and Employment Development), 2009; LEED 2002; European Commission 2002; Ketels et al 2008; Nauwelaers, 2003; Karlsson, 2007). Clusters are recognized as the primary locus of social capital (SC) and civic engagement and are thus able to foster company innovativeness. Moreover, clusters offer the advantage of limiting opportunistic behaviour by encouraging cluster participants to strive for constructive interaction that will positively affect their long term interests (Porter, 1998a). Clusters favour dynamics of learning and knowledge creation based on socially embedded vertical and horizontal linkages of co-locating firms and on their interaction with education/research and development (R&D) (Lagendijk, 2000; Malmberg & Maskell, 2002; Maskell, 2001; Steiner, 1998; Wolfe & Gertler, 2004). Thus, as Porter claims (1998b:89), “Governments should promote cluster formation and upgrading […]”. Indeed, manuals providing rough prescriptions on how to foster and create clusters have been published (Ffowcs-Williams, 2004; Rosenfeld, 2002) and the growing interest of policy makers in “recreating Silicon Valley” is not surprising (see e.g. Feldman & Francis, 2004; Ibrahim, 2009; Science|Business Innovation Board, 2009). Several cluster policies, from the OECD, the World Bank, national governments and regional development agencies, have been undertaken and documented (Boekholt & Thuriaux, 1999; EU Commission, 2002; Raines, 2000, 2001, 2002; Roelandt and den Hertog, 1999; Roelandt et al., 2000). According to the European Cluster Observatory, the EU counts some 2,000 clusters, 70 different national cluster policies, and hundreds of regional programmes (see The evident emphasis on clusters has been triggered by a general feeling of disappointment with previous supply-side-oriented measures targeted on infrastructure and technology support. In particular, most of the technology parks and technology transfer centres which had been established on a large scale in the 1980s and early 1990s did not match the high expectations their role models had created (Hassink, 1996). Cluster strategies were conceived as a good balance between supply-oriented policies and demand-oriented policies, even though some authors denounce the dominance of supply-sided actions, often towards a few, well known organizations (see e.g. Nauwelaers, 2001).

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