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Policy capacities for transformative innovation policy: A case study of UK Research Innovation

This paper provides a case study on how UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is implementing a mission-oriented approach to policy capacities for transformative innovation policy.

Policy capacities for transformative innovation policy front cover

21 March 2022

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UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose (IIPP) Working Paper Series: IIPP WP 2022/04

Authors:

Reference:

McLaren, J. and Kattel, R. (2022). Policy capacities for transformative innovation policy: A case study of UK Research and Innovation. UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, Working Paper Series (IIPP WP 2020-04). Available at: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/bartlett/public-purpose/wp2022-04.  

Abstract:

The 2008 financial collapse, climate crisis and COVID-19 have raised many questions about the sustainability of current systems and how to rebalance the impacts these have on, for example, the environment or rising inequality. A new generation of innovation policy, including a reimagined ‘mission’ approach, centres around using innovations to tackle societal challenges. This emphasis on directionality, coordination of different actors and policy mixes goes beyond standard science, technology and innovation (STI) or wider innovation policy, engaging other policy domains. While transformative policy measures, such as challenges and missions, are popular and there is growing research on their implementation, there is much to understand about how such models evolve in practice. A stark gap in the literature is the policy capacities to deliver more transformative missions. This article provides a case study on how UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) — the main public funder of research and innovation in the UK — is implementing a mission- or challenge-oriented approach in practice. It finds that the policy capacities for missions are not fully present, but there is evidence of those capacities emerging as policies evolve. The paper makes recommendations for how funders like UKRI can enhance those policy capacities further, and suggestions for how mission-oriented innovation policy analysis might be developed to include a stronger emphasis on policy capacities, and for further conceptual and empirical research on this aspect of mission implementation.