This paper draws on recent conceptual approaches to economic growth, in which the accumulation of knowledge is the fundamental driving force behind growth. This fact is reflected in the trend in developed economies towards an increasing investment in advanced technology, R&D, education, and culture. Concepts such as learning ability, creativity, and sustained flexibility gain greater importance as guiding principles for the conduct of individuals, institutions, nations, and regions. It is thus legitimate to question the traditional way of viewing the role that contemporary institutions play in the process of economic development and to argue for the need to promote systems of innovation and competence building based on learning and knowledge networks. This broad concept has motivated the work behind the present work, which reviews the strongest themes of the 4th International Conference on Technology Policy and Innovation (ICTPI), which was held in Curitiba, Paraná, Brazil, in August of 2000. Under the broad designation of "learning and knowledge networks," the conference brought together a range of experts to discuss technology, policy, and management in a context much influenced by a dynamics of change and a necessary balance between the creation and diffusion of knowledge. While the idea of inclusive development developed in previous conferences entails a process of shared prosperity across the globe following local specific conditions, it is crucial to understand the dynamics of the process of knowledge accumulation, which drives a learning society. Thus, this special issue includes a set of extended contributions to the Curitiba conference that are largely grounded on empirical experiences of different regional and national contexts. The aim of this introductory paper is to set the stage for these contributions, with an original contribution on possible views for the learning society.