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Bjørn T. Asheim

The chapter presents learning regions, understood as regional development coalitions, as a strategy for economic development in less developed regions. This follows a long tradition of regional innovation policy making, where this bottom-up and inclusive approach has been applied to promote learning-based processes of innovation and change. The first example was the Regional Innovation Strategies actions of the EU Commission in the late 1990s focusing on supporting innovation in less developed regions. Today, learning regions, the chapter argues, can be applied to design and implement Smart Specialization Strategies, which is the present EU regional innovation policy, in less developed regions of Europe. The learning region strategy of building broad regional development coalitions would be a way of activating the entrepreneurial discovery process, a cornerstone in smart specialization, in less-developed regions by mobilizing people with an entrepreneurial mindset from all sectors of a community to start a process of economic development.

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Björn T. Asheim, Markus Grillitsch and Michaela Trippl

Since its development in the 1990s, the Regional Innovation Systems (RIS) approach has attracted considerable attention from economic geographers, innovation scholars and policy makers. The RIS approach figures prominently in the scientific discourse about the uneven geography of innovation and the factors that shape the knowledge generation and innovation capacities of regions. The aim of the chapter is to reflect on the emergence of the RIS approach, the current debate as well as future challenges. This chapter is guided by four overarching research questions: What are the origins and theoretical foundations of this approach? What has the RIS approach contributed to innovation studies and economic geography? What are the implications for innovation policy? And what are the recent lines of research and key research challenges in the future? The authors argue that the contributions of the RIS approach have been substantial. Still, the approach has often been applied in a rather static way, more as a heuristic than a coherent theory. The key challenges for current and future research therefore are to move towards a more theory-based, dynamic perspective on RIS, dealing with new path development and the transformation of RIS.