How organizing a global conference is like managing a cluster

How organizing a global conference is like managing a cluster

The Institute hosted the 21st TCI Network Global Conference, or TCI 2018, from October 16 to 18, 2018. We brought together 340 individuals from 37 countries across all continents to explore collaboration within the cluster ecosystem. Naturally, one would think that putting together a three-day global conference would be a purely logistical task given to event managers (and we had some great ones!) but the entire 18-month planning experience gave us a taste of what it is like to manage a cluster, so we thought we would share some of our learnings with those who follow us and our work.

The Institute’s Research Director was also the Conference Director, which in the cluster ecosystem, would be the job of a cluster manager. A cluster manager often works in a cluster organization and liaises between cluster actors, such as government, firms, academia, and other organizations. A cluster manager wears many hats and can help set priorities and initiatives alongside firms. Cluster organizations are often small, independent organizations that support a cluster. In the case of the Institute, a team of four policy team members, the Executive Director, and a part-time administrator, as well as an event management duo supported the Conference Director as the main organizers of the conference.

Since a cluster is made up of a number of related sectors, a cluster manager must know how to “speak the language” of each sector and to understand the norms and jargon of each, to say the least. In addition, since collaboration is at the heart of the cluster and its main activities, the cluster manager sometimes works as the translator to ensure clear communication between sectors and encourage those within them to work together. In that way, the Institute stood on the shoulders of giants – there were many organizations and government bodies that worked with the Institute to deliver the conference, from giving advice as a member of the local steering committee to leading one of the eleven cluster immersion experiences on Day 1 (Oct 16). We had to work with each organization’s resources, goals, and expertise to encourage them to work together. Interestingly, many organizations that formed the committees for each cluster immersion experience had never worked together before, despite working within the same sector, simply because they had never had the opportunity to do so. But by pooling resources and collaborating, they were able to deliver outstanding experiences. 

Likewise, when firms and other actors are organized within a cluster ecosystem, this gives them an opportunity and reason to collaborate. This is not to say that firms do not compete, and in fact they are encouraged to do so, but they inevitably find areas where through collaboration, they can achieved results with mutual benefits—this is known as ‘coopetition’.

The Institute’s role in the organization of the cluster immersion experiences was to provide as much support and resources as needed. Often this came in the form of clear communication and an operating plan but we also provided training and opportunities to meet in person, and the energy in the room was always incredible! Inter-cluster collaboration could come about as a result of these opportunities to convene. Cluster organizations and managers also play this role of providing support and fostering the right linkages. Cluster organizations can plan events and bring everyone in the cluster together for networking and the beginnings of new partnerships.

Finally, we found that like cluster managers, there is a lot of learning on the job. The Institute had never planned a conference of this calibre before. Cluster managers must be nimble, have an aptitude for a variety of tasks and competencies, and learn to “go with the flow,” sometimes coming up with plans and procedures on the fly. Cluster management is at times about mediating conflicts and working through the need to compete and “go it alone.” Hosting an international conference means navigating the bureaucracies of many organizations so that delegates could get their visas, learning how to pitch potential partners, and putting up a website, among other things, all not unlike the work of businesses and certainly cluster organizations.

For more information on what it was like for conference delegates and organizations, see below for a few recaps:

Click here for more information about the conference and to read the post-conference report. The Institute thanks all of those involved in the organization of a very successful conference.

Written by: Dorinda So

Photo credit: akindo, istockphoto

Category: Clusters