All pulling in the same direction

Satisfaction and optimism usually prevail when setting up a valley bureau, economic board, cluster organisation or triple helix organisation. And rightly so. After all, the first, often complicated, hurdle to arrive at a new organisation is behind you. You already put many pieces of the puzzle together: what will an extra organisation add, who is going to pay for it, and what will the governance look like? These are discussions that arise with the renewal of every structure.

Certainly in the Netherlands, the start of such a new partnership also seems to be an illustration of our ability to formulate a collective ambition from the various perspectives (business, government and the knowledge world), which then serves as a guideline. Although, after a long time, it often turns out that not everyone is moving forward together as was assumed at the kick-off. An example: All those involved generally share the desire for more innovation. With hindsight, there appears to be no agreement about the intended effect of innovation. Some innovations lead to fewer rather than more jobs, something not every partner intended.

There are numerous cases in which the expectations between the stakeholders eventually turned out to diverge. Companies appear to be insufficiently interested in government instruments developed to support them. Or companies innovate in domains that are politically unattractive at the time, or there seems to be less ‘knowledge on the shelf’ at knowledge institutes than was previously thought. This regularly creates tension within the young organisation and leads to a lot of wrangling between stakeholders, and unnecessary loss of energy.

Unnecessary, because such tensions are the direct result of insufficiently careful preparation of the initiative at the front end. If you want to prevent that everyone focusses on something slightly different at some point in time, it is crucial to talk in clear and plain language about sometimes tricky questions when you are still in the preparation process. Issues such as: for whom are we doing it in the first place (for companies, for education, for knowledge institutions or for governments)? It is also important to make clear agreements in advance about the financing of the new organisation in the longer term. Do we expect that the organisation will soon (when is that?) mainly be paid for by the business community or not? Can the initiative also operate outside its own regional boundaries? Who actually decides which activities will be organised? The companies, the authorities, knowledge institutions, the management? Numerous subjects that, if adequately addressed during the preparation, can ensure that everyone is pulling in the same direction, even after a while.