Why are governments adopting mission-oriented approaches?
Many of the 21st century societal, economic and environmental challenges are complex and interconnected. Policymakers are increasingly coming to the realisation that traditional short-term, isolated, reactive, single stakeholder approaches are no longer sufficient. With a strong sense of urgency, governments around the world are seeking more innovative and systemic forms of policy-making that can tackle major challenges such as making cities more liveable, populations healthier and democracies fairer. They are especially looking for tools and pathways to secure resilient and just transitions towards net-zero economies that can mitigate and adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change.
In the face of such challenges, policymakers are under pressure to set and deliver on ambitious and time-bound policy goals – often derived from the universally endorsed Sustainable Development Goals – to support the technological and social innovations that could drive transformations in the way we produce, account, consume and live. Such goals are called missions.
What are missions exactly?
In the context of policymaking, a mission refers to a well-defined overarching policy objective to tackle a societal challenge within a defined timeframe. Missions are typically bold and ambitious, involve a large range of stakeholders across sectors and require significant innovation and coordination. They are also characterized by a long-term vision and transformative ambition. Examples of missions could include transitioning to clean energy sources or eradicating a specific disease by certain dates.
Mission-oriented policies are policy frameworks aimed at contributing to meeting specific missions. The mission-oriented approach emphasizes a problem-solving focus, where policy interventions are designed to mobilize resources, coordinate stakeholders, and stimulate innovation and collaboration across government and sectors to tackle the identified challenge and meet set mission targets. Mission-oriented policies often involve a combination of regulatory measures, financial incentives, research funding, and targeted investments to drive progress towards the mission.
A focus on mission-oriented innovation
A significant share of the Mission Action Lab’s work and expertise centres around mission-oriented innovation policy (MOIP), a specific type of mission-oriented policy which we define as a co-ordinated package of policy and regulatory measures tailored specifically to mobilise science, technology and innovation to address well-defined objectives related to a societal challenge, within a specific timeframe. In short, they are policy interventions that seek to harness innovation in all its forms (be it technological, social or public sector innovation) to help reach set missions and address some of the greatest challenges of our time.
With mission-oriented innovation policy, governments are seeking to leverage policy to shape markets, rather than merely attempting to compensate for market failures in research and development funding. This represents a continuation of a wider shift in national and supranational science, technology and innovation (STI) policies over the last 15 years, as STI policies have moved from pursuing predominantly growth and competitiveness-related objectives toward increasingly addressing societal challenges.
Mission-oriented innovation policy measures can span different stages of the innovation cycle (from research to demonstration and market deployment), mix supply-push and demand-pull instruments, and cut across various policy fields, sectors, and disciplines. Designing, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating such interventions requires concomitant public sector innovation, as governments must develop new capabilities and mindsets, as well as ways of working and collaborating.