All five cases are located within the County of Sogn og Fjordane. The cases vary in size (number of members), geographic reach, purpose and extent of innovation focus.
Case: The Jostedalen Business Network (BJ)
• Established in 2012
Innovation Norway, Sogn og Fjordane aims to facilitate the development of more market-oriented and competitive offers of adventure tourism in Sogn og Fjordane. Through business networks, they try to strengthen the innovative power, competitiveness and profitability through existing collaborations between businesses, by offering financing and access to knowledge resources. Four networks within the field of thematic tourism attractions and experience took part in the pre-project, and three of them participate in a three-year main project. In addition to the business network in Jostedalen, there is one network connected to Gulen Dykkersenter (Diving Centre) in Gulen/Bergen, and one network connected to Bratt Moro (Steep Fun) in Sogndal.
Small businesses in a tiny rural community include the businesses in Jostedalen’s tourism sector cooperating to a greater or lesser extent for decades. Through Innovation Norway’s business network project, the businesses have formalized this collaboration, and defined objectives, established a board of directors and a general manager in a part-time position. The main objective of the Jostedalen Business Networkis to improve the shoulder seasons by offering new product packages.
Case: Sogn og Fjordane Energy Region (ESF)
• Established in 2012
The initiative to establish the Sogn og Fjordane Energy Region came from the Sogn og Fjordane Business Network in 2010. In 2011, the County Authority of Sogn og Fjordane funded preliminary research to probe the interest among businesses. This network aims to bring together actors from different part of the value chain in the production of renewable energy, in order to take better advantage of their potential and increase value creation in the county. This was the background for applying for “Arena status” from Innovation Norway in 2012. The application received positive feedback, but the status were not granted.
The work done in the network was largely concentrated around the “Arena” application. In addition to a general manager, a consultant and a secretary have been working here during certain periods. Moreover, members’ meetings with paid speakers have been organized about once a year. The network management wanted to try a new “Arena” application in 2014. If this were to happen, the basic premises of the applications needed to be improved by engaging more thoroughly the participating businesses in the network. A consultant with experience from an Arena project in Hordaland County was enlisted to assist in this work. No new application resulted from this.
This is an example of a network which is relatively new and where there is a deliberate attempt to construct the network, rather than a network developing spontaneously. In this way Sogn og Fjordane Energy Region illustrated the problems that may occur when trying to establish a new network.
Case: Sogn og Fjordane IT Forum (IT-F)
• Established in 1995
Jan Per Styve from Vestlandsforsking, and Oddvar Flæte, the County Governor of Sogn og Fjordane, took the initiative to establish this network. At the time, several businesses in the county were invited to participate, among these, the County Authority of Sogn og Fjordane, the Public Roads Administration, Sogn og Fjordane University College, KS and Vestlandsforsking. The network was more directed at IT users than to IT developers or the IT industry, and this is still the case today, although it is more common for representatives from the IT industry to be in the network. IT forum is the oldest network we have studied, and it is a complex network with a shifting history, and where many different stakeholders and businesses are involved.
The IT Forum aims to initiate, coordinate and be a driving force for activities that promote rational and development-driven use of information and communication technology (ICT) in business and public sectors, and thereby also for the inhabitants of Sogn og Fjordane County. More specifically, the network should strengthen and develop cooperation and coordination among agencies, organizations and businesses in the county.
IT Forum has been purpose-driven and worked long-term. It has, among others, contributed to relocating government jobs to the County of Sogn og Fjordane, and to the 300 million NOK investment into broadband infrastructure in the county.
Case: Sogn og Fjordane Fruit and Berries Network (FBN)
• Established 2001
The network and industry related to the production of fruit and berries in Sogn og Fjordane is rooted in traditions that go back to the Viking Era (Starheim, 2009). Around the turn of the millennium the earnings were low, as was the mood in the industry, and many asked whether to continue or terminate (Brendehaug et al., 2000). However, in the years after the turn of the millennium, both the production and the economy have experienced an upward swing.
The revenue from the six major varieties of fruit and berries increased from less than 20 million NOK in 2002, up to about 97 million NOK in 2012. In 2009, Sogn og Fjordane County became the largest fruit and berries producer in the country, by revenue, a position it has held since. The development within the production of raspberries and sweet cherries has been especially good; about half the current revenue comes from raspberries. This progress is the result of many different factors, but extensive network collaboration is a key component. It has been possible to cultivate a stronger team effort locally, in the individual rural communities, as well as regionally, between the rural communities and business/industries. Especially during the past five years, this collaboration across geographic, sectorial and business boundaries has been a success.
Case: Sogn og Fjordane Marine Industry (MSF) (New name from May 2019 is Hub for Ocean)
During the initial network mapping based on interviews with heads of economic development and public chief executives, we were surprised that no one indicated any networks within the marine sector. There were also conversations about this with Sogn og Fjordane County Authority, and the conclusion was that there were few networks in this industry. Seafood production is an important industry in Sogn og Fjordane, and was one of the target areas in the County Authority’s value creation plan towards 2025 (Sogn og Fjordane County Administration, 2014). This project therefore chose an alternative approach. Instead of studying an already established network, we contacted businesses in the marine industry, Sogn Aqua and Hellenes, to find out more about how companies in the industry conduct their networking. The Sogn Aqua business is halibut farming, and Hellenes provides process solutions to the marine industry, among others. Through this contact we received information about a marine network in an establishing phase, Marint Vekstforum (Marine Growth Forum).
From a methodological point of view, we mapped the marine sector based on two individual businesses called “egocentric network analysis” (Borell & Johansson, 1996) in order to find out how these businesses engage in networks with others and how they cooperate with public funding bodies. Each of these businesses has been quite visible in the region, through press coverage about innovations and development, and both use R&D to improve their products, reach new markets and develop unique products. From our previous contact with these businesses, we knew that both use their networks actively.