The Solution – Online communities can help your cluster move beyond boundaries

John McIIroy | Kilian Cawley | 02 Nov 2023 | General

In this blog series on Irish clusters we have described the existing strengths of the ecosystem and the opportunity for growth. In this blog we introduce a way to scale the ecosystem by connecting with complementary clusters here in Ireland and internationally.

When the theory of clusters emerged in the late twentieth century, it was based on a paradox. How can local knowledge and relationships still create competitive advantage in a globalised economy?

This led to an increasing focus on the role of location as a contributing factor of a company’s success. Successful clusters were geographic concentrations of interconnected companies in a particular field.

The only limiting factor of a cluster was geography. Porter’s Californian wine cluster or Italian leather fashion cluster were successful because they were in California or Northern Italy.  While some examples might cross adjacent local or national boundaries, they are all finite entities.

Clusters policy evolution

Overcoming the constraints of geography led to increased interest in co-ordinating local networks at a national level. For example, back in 2014 the UK’s Centre for Cities was calling for an annual conference of UK cluster leadership teams to foster links and share best practice(1).

Fast-forward ten years and Ireland’s National Clustering Policy is hoping to take this even further, suggesting cross-cluster co-operation and an all-island approach to collaboration (2). Evidence suggests that these opportunities exist in Ireland at present, but they are not being seized upon effectively, with no central connection point for clusters and a lack of funding being some of the main obstacles (3).

A new tool for cluster collaboration

But what if you could use technology to expand your cluster beyond the bounds of geography? Online communities have been around for a while but as the functionality has evolved, and people become more used to virtual working practices post pandemic, so the willingness to adopt online communities is growing.

These platforms have a plethora of networking tools that engage and inform members, and most importantly, allow then to collaborate with each other through video call, online meetings, slide sharing and webinars.

The benefits are obvious: cluster managers can bring members together on a more regular basis compared to physical events; members can interact with each in a trusted space developed specifically around their needs; and all this happens in a time and space that is convenient to the companies involved.

Going global

At OCO Global international connections are in our blood, with our Dublin office regularly working with colleagues in London, Paris, New York, and Beijing. This led us to develop a technology solution that allows for collaboration across networks and joins groups across the globe.

With OCO CONNECT a cluster organisation based in the Kilkenny can interact with similar clusters in Singapore, Bangalore or Silicon Valley. The benefits of clusters are scale. As Porter stated they “allow each member to benefit as if it had greater scale, as if it had joined others formally.” (4)

Connecting different clusters virtually, whether across the country or across the globe allows you to take this scale to a new level and open up significant opportunities for clusters in Ireland.


(1) Centre for Cities (2014) Industrial revolutions: capturing the growth potential
(2) Grant Thornton (2023) Development of an Evidence Base to Support the Development of a National Clustering Policy and Framework
(3) Cluster Research Network (2022) Clustering on the Island of Ireland: A Gap Analysis
(4) Porter M (1998) Clusters and the New Economics of Competition