UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose


The UK’s Levelling Up White Paper centres around the mission-oriented approach

7 February 2022

In setting out its “levelling up” policy agenda, the UK government’s latest white paper foregrounds IIPP’s mission-oriented approach.

White paper levelling up

On 2 February 2022, the UK Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities published the Levelling Up White Paper (LUWP). Outlining a plan to “transform the UK by spreading opportunity and prosperity to all parts of it”, the paper makes reference to mission-oriented thinking and sets out “clear and ambitious medium-term missions” over 12 areas such as R&D, transport, health, crime, local leadership, and more. According to the LUWP, mission-oriented approaches are the “most effective in the face of complex, systemic, interconnected and urgent problems, which require insights from many perspectives and actions from many actors”.

The LUWP has referenced Prof. Mariana Mazzucato’s work on the mission-oriented approach, which IIPP has further developed in its policy work across the globe. In 2017, IIPP engaged with then Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark MP, to shape the UK’s "challenge-oriented" industrial strategy. Then in 2018-19, Prof. Mazzucato and Lord David Willetts co-chaired the UCL Commission on Mission-Oriented Innovation and Industrial Strategy (MOIIS) to help the government transform the four chosen Grand Challenges--artificial intelligence and data-driven technology, clean growth, the ageing society, and mobility—into concrete missions.

IIPP has been a key source of ideas and advice for governments in their drive to adopt mission-oriented approaches. In 2020-2021, Prof. Mazzucato advised the new government’s Innovation Expert Group towards a mission-oriented approach which was adopted into the new UK Innovation Strategy that precipitated the LUWP. She provided evidence to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee inquiry on the “UK ARPA” funding agency chaired by Greg Clark MP, and later to the bill committee for the Advance Research and Invention Agency. Prof. Mazzucato also advised the work of the Industrial Strategy Council (formerly led by Andy Haldane, now Head of the Levelling Up Taskforce), on highlighting the government’s critical role in the UK’s mission-oriented approach to vaccine innovation.

Prof. Mazzucato’s work has also indicated the potential of missions in places and regions that have been foregrounded in the LUWP. The mission-oriented approach is the centrepiece for the Scottish National Investment Bank envisioned by Prof. Mazzucato and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, and for the Camden Renewal Commission co-chaired by Prof. Mazzucato and Georgia Gould, Leader of Camden Council.

Most recently, Prof. Mazzucato provided a comprehensive overview on the mission-oriented approach in Mission Economy: A moonshot guide to changing capitalism. The book draws inspiration and practical lessons from NASA’s Apollo mission in rethinking the role of the government in shaping an economy for the common good, a theme that first emerged from The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking public vs. private sector myths.

Prof Mariana Mazzucato said:

As society continues to cope with the Covid-19 crisis, it is imperative that the government delivers innovation-led and sustainable growth equitably across the UK. The intent of the Levelling Up White Paper and its recognition of the mission-oriented approach is welcomed. The challenge now, is to make this approach more than just words. During the next phase, the UK can benefit from the kind of work our Commission for Mission Oriented Innovation Industrial Strategy (MOIIS) had when IIPP helped BEIS challenge teams develop concrete missions that fostered an intersectoral and inter-departmental framework.