Towards project clustering in Blue Growth: workshop impressions
14 Nov 2016

During the 7th Strategy Forum of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Region (EUSBSR) held in Stockholm on 8-9 November 2016, Interreg Baltic Sea Region took an opportunity to explore the concept of project clustering in the thematic field of Blue Growth. A workshop organised on 9 November gathered more than 60 participants, including project partners, representatives of funding programmes and other experts in the field.

Policy panelists during the workshop on Blue Growth – added value of cooperation in project clusters held at 7th Strategy Forum of the EUSBSR (© IB.SH/Ilze Ciganska).

The aim of the workshop was, first of all, to see whether there was a need for Programme support in boosting cooperation among Blue Growth projects, taking into account the many initiatives in the field. A question was also how clustering of projects could bring the biggest added value to the region. A further aim was to discuss feasibility and expectations for project clusters in Blue Growth as well as to identify thematic, institutional and other synergies across the Blue Growth field.

Broader approach to project clustering

The workshop was divided into two panels, during which the policy perspective for project clustering as well as views of funding programmes and project partners were widely discussed.

Interreg Baltic Sea Region’s willingness to form project clusters was positively received: “Go further - get experimental!” said Claus Schultze from the EU Commission’s Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE). Gitte Mondrup, EUSBSR Policy Area Coordinator Ship and Safe, added that Baltic Sea region is a good area for testing innovation and new solutions. The majority of workshop participants were in favour of applying a broader outlook of clustering projects and not narrowing it down to specific themes in Blue Growth at this stage. A flexible and needs-driven approach was promoted. In that context, the notion of a platform instead of a cluster was raised, as it would possibly imply a more inclusive and broader form of cooperation.

“Blue Growth calls for horizontal cooperation across sectors. There is a lot of knowledge to share,” said Angela Schultz-Zehden from the SUBMARINER Network, who referred to a study they conducted. “There are 132 projects currently running in the Blue Growth field. There is a need for a systematic cooperation platform,” she said.

Claus Schultze from DG MARE stated that such ready-to-implement initiatives are very much needed in the region and clusters could deliver “bankable projects” as results. The policy panelists also underlined the importance of involving private industry in project clustering, small and medium enterprises in particular. This was confirmed by the project panel. “Project platforms could be good places to bring projects from the research world and regional cooperation together,” added Lena Tasse from the Baltic Blue Growth project.

“Resources for communicating results of single projects are limited; project clusters could play an important role here,” said Ole Damsgaard from Interreg Northern Periphery and Arctic. Representatives of funding programmes stated that project clusters could serve to spread expertise, exchange know-how and communicate project results in a more efficient manner. They also pointed out the necessity to avoid duplications. As to the funding, all panelists were of the opinion that it should be flexible enough to also include projects outside of Interreg programmes.

Representatives of projects and project associations indicated that project clusters could be a platform for distributing cross-cutting technologies and an effective means with which to advocate for political support in the European Union. Although they noted the additional workload clusters would bring to projects that are still under development, opportunities for coordination, knowledge sharing and coming up with new solutions would nevertheless be appreciated.

Way ahead

To sum up, the workshop brought in a lot of constructive ideas and practical tips on how to shape project clusters. It confirmed that additional support for projects is indeed desired in Blue Growth in order to boost knowledge sharing, maximise project results and gain additional political support. The notion of platforms and multidisciplinary approach, bringing various competences together, the importance of communicating results efficiently, private-public partnerships as well as expectations towards long-term solutions were recognised by the Joint Secretariat staff. These fruitful discussions will help shape the final concept of project clustering in the Programme and set requirements for an upcoming call for project clustering. Interreg Baltic Sea Region plans to announce the call in mid-2017.