It is increasingly difficult for firms and other actors to access all necessary knowledge for innovation within their ‘home’ region. This is the case for all types of firms and regions. Large firms with their own research and development units as well as small firms need to access extra-regional knowledge to continue to innovate. Regardless of in which type of a region that a firm is located, firms are depending on knowledge interactions crossing the regional boundaries. This relates just as well to regions with large populations and strong economies as to less populated regions. Public policies can play a role with regards to the ability for firms to be able to link into global knowledge flows. However, regional development agencies have to act in a challenging and changing context to support and promote economic development in the knowledge economy.
The paper is based on two linked international research projects dealing with knowledge generation, use and circulation in European regions. Seven main sectors are included: tourism; food and drink; biotechnology; new media; automotive; ICT and knowledge intensive business services (KIBS). Empirical case studies in 29 regions have been carried out, and include investigations into how policy actors and public funds at local, regional, national and European levels are utilised for supporting knowledge interactions.
The mainly qualitative empirical research and the theoretical discussions in these projects have unravelled the complexity of knowledge interactions between different types of actors. The case studies have revealed very complex patterns of knowledge interactions between different types of actors (firms, organisations, higher education institutions and policy actors) both within the ‘home’ regions of firms and across regional and national borders. It is also clear that the policy options and policy funding alternatives are manifold and complex that include local, regional, national and international funding and programmes.
The research has shown that RDAs and other policy actors target knowledge generation and transfers in a variety of ways. Partnerships, networks and governance structures are some key words in descriptions of policies in this regard. Since knowledge interactions involve many actors locally, regionally, nationally and internationally the context for these policies is increasingly complex and difficult to master. The multi-actor and multi-scalar characters of the knowledge economy in which the RDAs act are the focus of this paper.
 The two projects are the 6th framework project ’Regional Trajectories to the Knowledge Economy [EURODITE]’ (2005-2010) and its sister project ‘Regional Trajectories to the Knowledge Economy – Nordic-European Comparisons [REKENE]’ part-funded by Nordic Innovation Center (2007-2010)
Regional Development Agencies: the Next Generation. Networking, Knowledge and Regional Change, Volterra, Italy, 17-19 November 2010