Territorial Economic Development (TED) is back in the spotlight and is attracting increasing attention from the international development community. As Mesopartner has been a pioneer and an active consultant in the field of Local and Regional Economic Development (LRED) for more than a decade, in our 2015 edition of our Annual Reflection we draw on our accumulated experience in this field to discuss to what extent the LRED approach and its methodologies are still beneficial and whether we need to reassess and possibly re-design our approach to respond to new challenges and integrate new concepts. 

Why has TED become so popular again and why is it considered relevant again?

  • TED promotion has a key role to play in addressing the crucial challenges of our time, such as social and territorial inequalities, achieving MDGs (and in the future Sustainable Development Goals), responses to climate change, recovery of conflict-ridden territories, etc.
  • All development efforts need to be grounded somewhere. There is no spaceless development. Different interventions come together and their results become visible in specific places.
  • Development requires traceability. Places are an appropriate level for monitoring and evaluation in order to trace impact over time.
  • Development efforts need to be place sensitive, as places differ from each other and territorial context matters. Equally designed interventions can be successful in one place and fail in another.
  • Territories do not necessarily need administrative borders. They can be sub-national or extend over national borders. Regional disparities within one country or between countries of a supranational construct are the focus of structural political attention.

What remains important in the TED/LRED discussion?

  • Places still matter, perhaps even more so than previously. In times of globalisation, territories serve as an anchor for development interventions. This is the heart of the discussion on place-based versus place-neutral approaches to economic development (see Article 1).
  • Key questions need to be asked when embarking on a process of strengthening a territorial economy, although the answers differ partly from those of ten or twenty years ago (see Article 2).
  • Participatory, bottom-up approaches mobilise local knowledge, motivate stakeholders and stimulate innovation (see Article 4).
  • TED processes benefit from creative facilitation in order to be coherent and sustainable (see Article 9).

What elements are newly becoming part of TED?

  • Understanding territory beyond a purely geographic definition, but also referring to territorial assets and capital.
  • Recognition of territorial economies as complex adaptive systems (see Article 3).
  • Acknowledging the comeback of industrial policy, also at the local level, and its positive impact on bottom-up innovation policy and practices (see Article 4).
  • Moving beyond the purely economic dimension of competitiveness at the territorial level by responding to the environmental and climate challenges of our time (see Article 5) and aiming at a higher level of inclusiveness (see Article 7).
  • Trying to overcome the urban-rural divide by interpreting territories as wider living and innovation spaces (see Article 6).
  • Looking out for the role of market-focused TED approaches in highly insecure, conflict-ridden situations, another phenomenon of current times (see Article 8).

Mesopartner’s experience in TED has been gained in all types of countries, including least developed countries such as Bangladesh, developing countries such as Peru, middle-income countries such as South Africa and developed countries such as Germany. The partners and associates are continuing to work in parallel in all of these types of countries. We are often considered knowledge mediators between the more industrialised countries and the developing world. We are highly aware of the complexity of local economies everywhere and that therefore successful development approaches cannot easily be replicated in different locations – this will not ensure success. However, we still believe in the importance of knowing what has been done elsewhere and the relevance of transferring knowledge between places before adjusting it to suit local conditions. Knowledge flow, however, needs to move in both directions: even advanced countries and territories can learn from less-developed places. In the end, territorial development efforts need to be adapted to the specific situation and requirements of a given territory and its people.

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