The regional systems of innovation concept is well established in academic and practitioner discourses about innovation and economic development. As with the innovation systems approach more generally, the use of the concept has expanded significantly from its initial analytical purpose and has been extensively used to inform policy making. We identify a number of dangers associated with the use of regional systems of innovation as a normative concept which both overstates and at the same time underemphasises the roles regions play as policy-making and implementation spaces. These issues are explored in the paper with an illustration of the North West region of England. © 2010 Pion Ltd and its Licensors.