4.2. Practices of Open Innovation in Interizon
The key finding of the research was that cooperation in COs may have nature and intensity. As a result of the study, four levels of cooperation that may occur simultaneously in a given CO were distinguished. Level I, defined as “Integration at the unit level”, involves building relationships among cluster members, which is necessary for the formation of subsequent levels. At level II, “Allocation and integration at the process level”, greater cooperation of cluster entities is visible, which is manifested by the exchange of specific types of resources as well as the integration of some areas of activity (e.g., quality, marketing). Level III, “Impact on the environment”, is aimed at achieving collective goals by influencing the environment, including lobbying. The most advanced level IV, “Creation and integration at the organizational level”, is about creating shared added value by selected cluster members and integration within the value chain. At each level of cooperation, we identified various open innovation practices, specific to a given level, which is aptly illustrated by Interizon. These open innovation practices emerged in the coding process based on the methodology of grounded theory. They overlap with the main forms of commitment at each of the identified levels [45
The study showed that the use of these practices by cluster organizations allows access to various types of resources; first of all, relational resources and, consequently, information and knowledge resources. With the transition to the next level of cooperation, the pool of available resources increases—the relationships among cooperating entities strengthen (Table 3
) conditioning an increasingly better flow of information and knowledge.
At level I, the basic forms of cooperation in a CO are: participation in meetings and participation in events, which turned out to be the most effective open innovation practices (Table 4
). In Interizon, several meetings and events are held annually—workshops, conferences, networking meetings, webinars—thematically related to the needs of the ICT industry. Interizon is the main organizer of ICT DAY—an annual conference devoted to the discussion on the development of the ICT industry and the possibility of using information, electronic, and telecommunications technologies in various areas of social and economic life. Each edition of the conference is attended by the representatives of the world of business, science, and public administration. As part of ICT DAY, a panel is organized with guided participation of cluster members who share their experiences from cooperation with other conference participants. Such presentations can be treated as part of the demonstration effect in a CO—the experiences of other companies may become a source of inspiration for other participants and motivate them to be more active within the CO. The active participation of members in meetings and events allows access to a large pool of diverse, but fairly general information that is most easily exchanged during informal meetings which involve face-to-face contacts. On the other hand, the exchange of such general information does not require the establishment of strong relationships between cluster members (Table 3
At level II, two types of activity turned out to be crucial in terms of open innovation, the first of which was participation in task groups (Table 5
). In Interizon, task groups are created primarily to integrate participants around common problems and goals. Task groups organize their own meetings, independent of other meetings within the CO. Research shows that the more advanced the form of cooperation within a group, the greater the frequency of such meetings, the higher the attendance, and the smaller the size of the group. As the example of Interizon shows, participation in task groups brings further benefits to participants, in addition to those directly related to the results achieved by the group. There is a much greater flow of information in task groups than in the CO forum during general meetings organized for all cluster members. The information exchanged by group participants is more personalized and tailored to the needs of the participants, which, compared to level I, brings greater benefits to the members involved. It is facilitated by the greater openness of the participants who can strengthen their bonds through more frequent and regular group meetings. In task groups, there is a specific community of goals, and thus cooperation to achieve common benefits, which further strengthens the ties between participants (Table 3
The second open innovation practice identified at level II was participation in training (Table 5
). An example that illustrates the processes of knowledge sharing in Interizon is a Foundation established within the Interizon structure dealing with staff training for the needs of cluster companies. The foundation acts as a broker—it examines and analyzes the needs of companies in the field of increasing employee competences, and then seeks out trainers who could fill the identified gaps, thanks to which the subject of training is closely matched to customer requirements. Identification of entrepreneurs’ needs is carried out by the Foundation, most often based on direct contact with representatives of companies, which ensures a two-way, interactive exchange of information. As a result, the information provided is more accurate and can be additionally detailed. Personal contact authenticates the obtained information and creates an opportunity to get to know each other, which breaks the anonymity barrier, making it easier for the parties to establish cooperation. The Foundation is also involved in the organization of internal training within Interizon, with the active participation of cluster members (acting as trainers). There is mutual learning in Interizon—the members of companies exchange knowledge by providing one another with training services in the subject in which they feel competent. The respondents emphasize that this type of activity is based on a high level of openness and reciprocity; therefore, the information exchange occurs only among selected members, between whom trust has been built (Table 3
). Both described practices (task groups and training) foster the development of ties among selected participants, and thereby facilitate the exchange of various types of resources (including material, financial and human resources), but, above all, they are used to exchange information, which, unlike information on level I, is more detailed and tailored to the recipients’ profiles.
The research shows that, at level III, lobbying and the related participation in meetings with entities from outside the CO is the most important open innovation practice (Table 6
). Interizon members engage in various forms of cooperation with other companies with a view to creating more favorable legal and administrative conditions for running a business, as well as to adjusting the educational profile in the region to the needs of companies. An example of such activity is the commitment to define the Smart Specialization of the Pomeranian region and establish partnerships for RSS. The ICT cluster industry is in line with the Smart Specialization of the Pomeranian region within which it operates. Interizon was the leader in organizing the process of entrepreneurial discovery of specialization in this area. Currently, it is the leader of the Pomeranian Smart Specialization called “Interactive technologies in an information-saturated environment” (PSS2). The goal of this specialization is to build and strengthen international competitiveness and accelerate the growth rate of enterprises in the ICT sector in the Pomeranian Voivodeship. As a coordinator, the Interizon Foundation organizes various networking meetings and workshops addressed to cluster members and other involved entities. The cluster cooperates with the local government administration also in other important regional initiatives—cluster members take part in consultations on large regional projects and strategic development programs for the region. The above activities undertaken by Interizon lead to the gradual activation of new entities operating in the ICT industry in Pomerania, which in turn enables the further development of cooperation between key regional entities. This, in turn, leads to the development of relationships with external partners operating outside the CO (Table 3
). Thanks to these relationships, cluster participants also have the opportunity to use the services of experts with business and academic backgrounds cooperating with the cluster. Interizon closely cooperates with specialists and scientists from the ICT industry and advisors in the field of law, new technologies, etc. The cluster conducts international activities, including contacts with over a dozen European and non-European ICT clusters. This way, Interizon members gain advantage in obtaining significant information about the environment that they can use in their business activities. It also works the other way around—Interizon as an organization associating entities bound by a common goal can also influence the environment by sharing the knowledge and experience of its members.
As the research shows, at the highest level of cooperation (level IV), the main open innovation practices are participation in project groups and consortia as well as participation in teams focused on the development of permanent cooperation (value chain cooperation and common products) (Table 7
). In the case of Interizon, the key is the first of these practices—cooperation in the implementation of joint projects which results from the specific nature of the ICT industry. As part of the CO, companies receive support in searching for business partners for jointly implemented innovative projects. They also receive support in creating project consortia on a large scale, including the international scale. These projects are innovative research and development projects, mostly cofinanced from EU funds (Horizon 2020) and/or national funds allocated to research and innovation (National Center for Research and Development). There is a high level of commitment and cofinancing by business partners—cluster members, in all innovative projects. The budgets of projects (of the Polish part of the consortia) reach several million euros. In most cases, companies participating in large international projects were not involved in this type of activity before joining the cluster. In particular, the CO facilitates the establishing of partnerships through support in finding partners, content-related consultations, project management support, model contracts, operating procedures, solutions in the field of intellectual property, etc. In some cases, the cluster initiative takes on the role of the project coordinator, but in most cases, the project leaders (or the leaders of Polish parts of the international consortia) are SME members of the cluster. In project groups created at this level of cooperation, the trust created between partners in earlier acts of cooperation poses a certain barrier to access (Table 3
). By collaborating in project groups, participants gain access to confidential information, reserved only for the most trusted members, and access to new knowledge which is often created as part of project collaboration.
A good example of cooperation at level IV is the participation of some Interizon members in the Adaptive Cooperative Control in Urban (sub) Systems project. The project officially started on 1 June 2013 and lasted until 31 January 2016. The specific nature of the ACCUS (Adaptive Cooperative Control of Urban Subsystems) project sheds new light on how to ensure the implementation of the idea of sustainable development. The essence of the project was to create a platform for the integration of various city systems: intelligent transport systems, city light systems, and energy management systems. Each of these systems was designed in accordance with specific assumptions—the common idea behind their operation was to optimize the processes that these systems were to manage. Optimizing the operation of spheres with even a small scope of impact is a small step toward sustainable development, while the integration of these efforts, and thus a kind of “optimization of minor optimizations”, is a big leap in this direction. The project was attended by those Interizon entities that showed great involvement in cluster matters and had adequate experience and a potential to carry out the tasks entrusted to them. Successful activities not only strengthened the trust between Interizon members but also started the process of building trust between Interizon entities and other entities participating in the project (e.g., from Spain, Italy, and The Netherlands).