27 September 2007

Research Clusters and the National Research Council

The National Research Council convened a conference this week on Research Clusters. Connections 2007 was billed as the first NRC conference on technology clustering, as aligned with the Federal Government's Science and Technology Strategy. The event was well attended by a variety of stakeholders, and offered some excellent presentations and discussion about the cluster concept. There was good presentations on how to set up clusters, evaluation of their effectiveness, and the importance of fostering business development and intellectual property protection and "IP hygiene."

Steven Casper of the Keck Graduate Institute gave an interesting presentation on the use of social networking analysis to examine and evaluate clusters. Casper uses social network analysis to show three things: the first is the network effects of those who work in clusters - this is very closely related to the kind of work Putnam has done on the importance of social capital - and how there is a lot of mobility between companies in specific clusters. His second point was that clusters are defined by a heterogeneity of actors - people from various organizations and backgrounds - and that non-market actors need to take a systematic role in cluster development in concert with business management personnel. Casper's third point concerns cluster marketplace orientation, and how alignment of government and business objectives around specific industries influence the relative success of cluster development.

Some time ago I wrote about the idea of virtual research clusters, which I think is an idea gaining in momentum. While clusters may always be regional, we are working on a virtual cluster model (aligned with regional strengths) as a means of leveraging Internet technologies and distributed expertise to cohere around specific applied research problems. I'll post more on this as we develop the concept. Suffice to say, virtual clusters, leveraging regional strengths, can foster the aims of the Science and Technology Strategy by enabling Canadian business and research communities to leverage shared assets (i.e. the national broadband infrastructure) for common productivity goals. The NRC conference was an excellent introduction to the kinds of work being done in this area, sponsored in a large part by our national research labs, as well as work being done internationally on evaluating cluster effectiveness.

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