The purpose of this work is to contribute with some reflections to the debate that has flourished in recent years around two issues: rural development and systemic reading of the territorial articulation of agricultural development. In the numerous investigations conducted in Italy and elsewhere, the analytical approach adopted (institutional level and investigation units, choice of indicators and of the analytical instruments) has profound repercussions on rural policies, according to its wider or narrower formulation. After a brief reflection on the approaches to rural development, highlighting the contradictions of institutional intervention, the study proposes a critical description of some results of the Italian investigations. The aim is to contribute to the definition of an analytical approach for evaluating the dynamics in progress in the agricultural and rural development at different decisional levels (EU, national, regional). The proposed instruments satisfy some requirements: the repeatability of the investigation at different times and in a variety of contexts, the flexibility for the adaptability to the mosaic of situations in the rural world, the applicability at different territorial levels.