Evaluating Cluster Policies: A Unique Model? Lessons To Be Drawn From a Comparison Between French and European Experiences
Although there is a consensus concerning the need for public policy evaluation, there is no stable doctrine regarding the way such assessments should be carried out. Different models coexist or succeed one another; it is, for example, possible to schematically oppose a ballistic model of evaluation “of the action” to an emergent model of evaluation “in the action”. The aim of this article is to analyse the evolution in public policy evaluations and the difficulties inherent in them by studying the French cluster evaluation undertaken in 2008. This evaluation was planned from the beginning as a component of the cluster policy, with the aim of modifying the policy in the light of its initial results. We first put into perspective the doctrines and methodologies underpinning public policy evaluation in general and cluster evaluation in particular. We then study the procedures used in the French cluster evaluation, comparing them to four international cases (Germany, Belgium, Finland and Austria). The analysis is based on a detailed examination of documents relevant to the evaluation, on our empirical knowledge of the French clusters, and on discussions with territorial and national actors involved in the cluster policy. The article reveals the inherent difficulties in cluster evaluation processes. These difficulties are mostly related to the systemic, multi-actor and heterogeneous characteristics of the object “cluster”. Analysing the usage and the effects of the evaluation on the various actors allows us to conclude that cluster evaluation in France is a learning source for the progressive construction of a cluster doctrine and a doctrine of its management. The evaluation, grounded in an interactive approach, becomes part of a larger process, a knowledge process benefiting both the government and the local actors concerned. Integrated from the outset into the cluster management system, the evaluation becomes a tool amongst others; it is therefore less consistent with a model of objective, incontestable and independent knowledge production than with an instrument to help decision-makers forge their choices.
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