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AGORADA 2024: Empowering Regions – Knowledge, Investments and People. Shaping the future of Regional Development

Article written by Giacomo Frisanco – Communication, Policy and Membership Manager

AGORADA is the main annual event of EURADA. It creates and maintains a network of regional development agencies by helping them to connect and collaborate on activities related to their common interests. EURADA members inspire each other and exchange ideas by sharing their best practices and successful policies in their respective regions.

AGORADA 2024: Empowering Regions – Knowledge, Investments and People, was held in Brussels on Tuesday 4th June at Residence Palace where recently EURADA moved with his own Brussels’ office.

The event started with the first speech of Theo Follings as the new EURADA President. He pointed out that his election happened at the same time as the European election. A new commission will take place soon and then many common challenges will be addressed: market, climate, socio-economic etc. The development agencies are going to play a crucial role in the next five years in bringing innovation to their regional ecosystem.

The newly elected EURADA vice President Cristina Oyon was a panellist of the first session of AGORADA 2024: Ensuring Equal Opportunities. Cristina presented a recent study carried out in the Basque Countries on the impact of women on industrial competitiveness. Colleagues from ART-ER, presented their experience in Gender Equality and Inclusion in the Emilia Romagna region.  Cristina pointed out that women are underrepresented in the manufacturing sector by representing the 47% of the labor force but only 20% is employed in the manufacturing workforce. Gender equality no longer remains just a matter of human rights, but a fundamental question to ensure competitiveness and economic recovery.
ART-ER started working on its Gender Equality Plan - in 2022, as an open and inclusive pathway based on sharing steps, knowledge and experience, both internally and externally. Their plan aims to support SMEs via clusters to increase their business capacities and sustainability by adopting an inclusive culture based on gender equality.

EURADA policy officer Jerome Friedrichs together with Stephan Visser, policy analyst at OECD, presented the first preliminary results of the EURADA-OECD survey on development agencies launched at the end of 2023. The survey was elaborated in order to better understand European DAs and adapt EURADA’s services accordingly and to develop materials that demonstrate the added value of DAs to territorial development. Another crucial element of this mapping exercise is to identify and develop some policy tools to enhance the contribution of DAs to territorial development.

71 development agencies (58 regional, 2 local, 2 others), from 21 countries, replied to our survey. DAs provide advice and support on a wide range of topics: from attracting investment and digitalisation to strategic planning. The majority of the RDAs have between 10 and 49 employees while local Das have less employees. Staffing numbers can directly affect operational capabilities and the scope of activities. A vast majority of regional and local development agencies support territorial strategic planning (approx. 90%) with different responsibilities: from drafting regional development plans to drafting more specialised or sectoral documents (e.g. smart specialisation strategy.

The challenges faced by regional and local DAs are largely overlapping. The main common challenges are:

  • Limited financial and human resources
  • Limited investment instruments

There are also some noticeable differences. Regional DAs are more likely to mention challenges related to:

  • Restrictive mandate
  • Effective horizontal co-ordination

AGORADA continued with a session dedicated to the Role of National Associations of Development Agencies. This panel was composed of 7 excellent speakers representing 7 different national associations of Development Agencies: France, Germany, Spain, USA, Finland, Netherlands and Argentina.

The discussion among the national representatives was very intense and interesting. Despite the lack of a common definition of DAs in Europe, DAs have many interests in common such as strengthen the competitiveness of businesses and the region by implementing the economic development work of the owner cities and municipalities, and create the largest national network for knowledge exchange, experiences and good practices within the regional economic development cooperation area. Some differences are still persisting but this is because a different socio-economic level of the regional ecosystems. For example, in some countries development agencies are also possible at intercommunalités (association of municipalities) level and others are directly managing several working groups on sustainability, digitalisation etc. While the Argentinian activities of a national association of DAs are similar to the European one, the American approach is slightly different. IEDC is more focused in enhancing the stakeholder experience by providing world-class professional development, networking and customer service. IEDC provides certification, accreditation, training, cutting-edge reports, studies and publications, hosts conferences and acts as an advocate for the profession.

The afternoon session was dedicated to analyse the impact of investments at regional level. This heterogeneous panel included TICBioMed a cooperative cluster of IT companies, Universities, Healthcare providers, and Public Institutions that work together to promote eHealth innovation in the Murcia region; and a presentation on sustainable tourism: Ways as a tool to support the economy and environment in Umbria which is having an impact at regional level by regenerating and increasing awareness and reputation of Small Village as well as enhancing and recovering of cultural and religious heritage. Our Spanish member from EQA illustrated the social and environmental impact assessment and verification models. EQA is an international certification, inspection and verification agency. The integration of environmental and social impact assessments into organisational strategies has become an established norm. Independent verification & validation of impact assessments enhances credibility, ensures accountability, and fosters transparency.

The panel foresaw also the presentation of the POCITYF project on Cultural Heritage and legal barriers which is generating solutions at building and district level that enable the increase of energy self-consumption, energy savings and high share of locally produced renewable energy.

Another tool for unleashing innovation is Intellectual property. The European Union Intellectual Property Office aims to raise awareness of the benefits of IP and to support SMEs with understandable and easily accessible information. They also provide tailored support to European entrepreneurs to register their trade mark.

The last session of the day was related to present to the big audience some updates on EU initiatives.

The session, moderated by Daniel Janeiro, our recently elected Vice-President and treasurer of EURADA, foresaw the presence of Christian Saublens, founder and former director of EURADA who recently submitted to the EC a position paper titled “Rethinking regional policies into an ‘applied science’ using data-driven approaches and evidence-based decision making”. The main point of Christian is that the Cohesion policy has been a success at national level but a failure at regional level. In the last years, 25 regions have fallen under the EU average. Only 48 regions (25%) out of a sample of 192 regions recorded an increase in their GDP/inhabitant above the EU average.

Carmen Sillero, from JRC, presented the recent publication “Innovation for Place-Based Transformations: Beyond PRI thought the ACTIONbook”, while Nikos Maroulis illustrated the S3 Community of Practice, and Martine Diss EU initiatives to support cooperation between European and Ukrainian companies and regions.

AGORADA concluded with the celebration of EURADA Awards 2023. The EURADA Awards recognise and honour innovative best practices in regional development. These awards have been presented annually since 2015 and many projects, proposals, and tools have since been presented and awarded. The stated aim of the EURADA Awards is to identify new developments introduced by both member and non-member agencies and to showcase them for the benefit of all European regional development practitioners.

The 2023 winners were: ZADRA NOVA (Croatia), SERDA (Bosnia & Herzegovina) and SODENA (Spain).


The EURADA secretariat is glad to have hosted such an important event in Brussels where three quarters of the EURADA members came to Brussels to attend it. It was a great chance for networking and reinforce synergies in order to jointly shape the near future of the association.