Planning for an innovation district Questions for practitioners to consider

By Sara Lawrence, Michael Quinn Hogan, Elizabeth Grace Brown

Innovation districts are physical spaces that serve to strengthen the foundations and institutions of an innovation ecosystem. The design, implementation, and management of formalized innovation districts is a new practice area. Research draws upon the experience of concentrated areas of innovation that occurred organically, such as Boston’s Route 128, as well as intentional projects to bring together innovators in large science and technology parks, such as North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park. Existing research focuses on how to define and design innovation districts and evaluate their impact, as well as general policy considerations. In this paper, we review the definitions and benefits of an innovation district, reviewing the existing empirical research on their impacts. We then propose a series of questions to guide practitioners in addressing the economic, physical, social, and governance elements of an innovation district. Finally, we outline some of the challenges in creating an innovation district and ways to measure progress, to allow practitioners to get ahead of potential issues in the future. This paper is intended to help policymakers and practitioners working in innovation and economic development translate the concepts of innovation ecosystems into actionable next steps for planning innovation districts in their communities.


Lawrence, S., Hogan, M. Q., & Brown, E. G. (2019). Planning for an innovation district: Questions for practitioners to consider. (RTI Press Publication No. OP-0059-1902). Research Triangle Park, NC: RTI Press.

© 2019 RTI International. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


Sara LawrenceSara Lawrence, MCRP, is program director of Economic Development in the Center for Applied Economics and Strategy at RTI International.

Michael Quinn HoganMichael Hogan, MA, is a research economist in the Center for Applied Economics and Strategy at RTI International.

Elizabeth Grace BrownElizabeth Brown, BA, is an economist in the Center for Applied Economics and Strategy at RTI International.

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