This paper analyses how new tools of regional political economy may increase effectiveness learning from the governance experience rooted in several industrial districts. The first step to do it, is try to change traditional perspective in which the concept of industrial district has bounded. To generalise the theoretical framework of industrial district we need, over all, to recognize the function of territory in social, cognitive and institutional building of economic development. Analysing imple-mentation processes of the Italian industrial district law, the paper points out some questions about growth and innovation policies of small firms systems, i.e.: operative definition of local level in industrial policy; choice between leading industry and a wider cluster of activities; different institutional capabilities and paths to embody a collective strategy of local development; how contestable markets, joint action and economic evaluation may come into regional political economy.