The notion of territorial development occupies an increasing place in the literature and in the discourse of politicians and policy makers. It is slowly replacing the concept of regional development, which refers above all to a macroeconomic approach – that of large flows of internal exchanges and pipelines with other regions or neighboring nations. In contrast, the question of territorial development addresses with another level – that of the inhabitants of territories, local stakeholders, firms and farms. It also devotes interest to local arrangements and forms of cooperation between local actors, as well as their oppositions and conflicts. The concern is more microeconomic and the approach takes into account the characteristics and culture of local societies.
Since the 1980s researchers have often linked the concept of territorial development to the existence of local production or innovation systems, such as clusters, districts or innovative milieus, and have shown that development can occur in communities of locally related small and medium size producers. Today we realize that this conception is important but that it is not sufficient to describe the whole dimension of territorial development. Indeed, other types of initiatives at the local level must be taken into account, such as alternative experiments in peripheral or lagging territories, like leader programs for example. We must also consider other types of innovations, like the dimensions of the circular economy, such as territorial metabolism or short and local food chains, which raise the question of resource sustainability and energy transition, but also social and institutional innovations such as social cooperatives or new forms of services. Issues of territorial capital are, then, crucial, as they determine the types of resources mobilized to foster development, as well as their implementation.
Thus, the notion of territorial development evokes economic, social and institutional evolutions that are more or less autonomous or independent of those of nations, or even of regions. More generally, it is important to recognize processes which take place at a sub-regional level and which in turn recognize the position of local populations, with the definition of different categories of stakeholders and their involvement in decision-making and development choices, or even local democracy processes. It is time to look carefully at the definition of these processes and group them into a coherent set of reflections, and to illustrate them with particular examples of the different forms of innovation which contribute to these evolutions.