We define territorial development as the improvement of the well-being and wealth of the stakeholders of a territory, given their relations of competition and cooperation, their initiatives and their oppositions, and the dynamic of territorial innovations.

It mainly concerns small geographical areas, joining what has long been called local development. The territory is a biophysical reality (a watershed) or institutional (territories of biodiversity like the Natura 2000 Zones, or water like the SAGE), but it is above all an existing and a social construct, resulting from the actions of the actors.

There is a difference between regional development and territorial development

Regional and territorial development: differences.

Regional developmentTerritorial development
BoundariesRegion: institutional definitionTerritory: defined by the actions
of local actors
Main actorsProductive actors + public
Different types of stakeholders
Modes of coordinationCompetition between firmsCompetition and conflict
Types of policiesMacroeconomic policiesMunicipalities
Types of governanceMultilevel governanceTerritorial governance
Land useMacro-planningLocal land-use and
land exploitation

Dynamics and time of projects

The innovations at the origin of development projects are of different types: technological, organizational, social and institutional. They are based on local or imported resources, absorbed and reshaped locally.

Each novelty is likely to become an innovation and thus contribute to the development of a territory, but not all are well received or appropriate. Only novelties adopted by society, the private economic sphere and public authorities can be considered as real innovations, which can contribute to territorial development.

A typology of territorial innovations

Technological and
organizational innovations
Social and institutional
Cooperative and concerted
Produced by cooperationProduced by consultation
Competitive and conflict
Produced by competitionProduced by conflict
OriginsInventionsNew projects

The market determines the adoption of technological innovation, and society contributes to the acceptance of social and institutional innovation, sometimes at the cost of significant changes in the initial model.

For the governance side, the conjunction of the common wills of the stakeholders gives birth to the dynamics of cooperative projects and leads to the production of cooperative innovations. On the contrary, when the dynamics of opposition and separation are prevalent, the absence of general agreement on the types of projects leads to multiplication of opposite options. These processes give birth to conflicting innovations and new paths of development thanks to the modification of the initial plans of private or public stakeholders or the emergence of new plans. The mechanisms of exclusion can contribute to isolate particular groups of actors and lead to a spatial segregation (ghettos, gated communities, etc.). Finally, the absence of solidarities and exchanges can cause spatial exit when an important part of the actors leave the territory, with the possibility of process of languor and land abandonment.

For the production side, cooperation relations take the form of joint work projects, alliances and networks. Competition is not always exacerbated at the territorial level. In localised production systems, firms often combine competition and cooperation relations, alliance or opposition strategies according to the functions concerned (R&D, production, marketing, etc.). Relocations correspond to an exit from the territory that may involve all the functions of an enterprise or only a part of them (transfer of a stage of production, an industrial process or a service). Whether it is a complete cessation of activity or complex circuits of commodities caused by the international value chains, they cause a net employment deficit for the territory of origin.

The new processes of territorial development are based on technological, social, institutional and organizational innovations, breaking with routinized behaviours that reproduce previous practices. Innovations initiate changes in productive, social or institutional trajectories. Territorial development is therefore primarily a question of changing attitudes, changing economic and social structures and implementing new projects. It is the result of compromises that are often laborious, sometimes long and rarely egalitarian. It depends on the quality of the territorial governance, to select innovations – consensual or conflicting – and to set up projects for the future.