A counterfactual approach to the French cluster policy

A counterfactual approach to the French cluster policy

Assessing the collaboration and network additionality of innovation policies: a counterfactual approach to the French cluster policy

Over the past twenty years or so, increasing interest has been shown in cluster policies, and these have been adapted to an increasingly varied number of contexts and countries.
According to the 2019 report of the European Observatory for Clusters and Industrial Change, the French cluster programme is one of the most highly developed in Europe and has the largest budget. In July 2005, the French government established 67 clusters in various fields, including energy, mechanics, aerospace, transport, ICT, health, the environment and ecotechnology. There are now 56 clusters in France, which operate as non-profit organisations financed through public funding and members’ contributions. They bring together large and small firms, research laboratories and educational establishments in a specific region to develop synergies and cooperation.

The French cluster policy supports research projects by strengthening collaboration networks, particularly on the local and regional levels, with the aim of boosting innovation and national and local economic development. To date, impact assessments have focused mainly on consequences in terms of economic performance and innovation. They have shown a positive leverage effect on R&D expenditure but the results in terms of effective innovation and economic performance are less convincing (France Stratégie, 2020).
In contrast, little is known about the ability of clusters to structure the innovation ecosystem by strengthening collaboration and embedding participants in knowledge networks.

This article contributes to the emerging literature by combining programme evaluation methods and social network analysis. In it, we focus particularly upon the impact of cluster policies on the intensity of collaborations, on their geographical scale and on the centrality of agents in the network.

The results obtained indicate that, by reinforcing links between co-located organisations, clusters do have a positive effect on the collaborative behaviour of firms and their local anchoring. In contrast, firms benefiting from cluster policy did not seem to significantly modify their position within knowledge networks.

Given the link established elsewhere in the literature between network centrality and innovative performance, taking better account of network failures when designing cluster policies could improve their effectiveness. 

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