UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose


Mission-oriented innovation

Missions lay behind some of the biggest innovative leaps forward of the last century and can offer the transformative approach needed today.

People forming an upward arrow
The 2008 global financial crisis shook the foundation of economies around the world. Nine years later, the aftershocks are still being felt. As governments worry about secular stagnation, instability and inequality the old approaches to economic policy-making seem inadequate to the task.

How can governments get economies growing again, and in ways that serve society? What can they do to get firms investing again? What can they do about big societal problems, from managing ageing populations to tackling climate change? With renewed interest in the role of government in stimulating private sector growth, what should modern industrial strategy look like in this this context?

IIPP’s work on mission-oriented innovation offers a fresh approach to questions like these. It focuses on the potential of mission-oriented, strategic public sector investment to catalyse economic activity, spark innovation, solve public problems, and lay the foundations for future economic growth.

A fresh approach to industrial strategy

Rather than focusing on particular sectors – as in traditional industrial policy – mission-oriented policy focuses on problem-specific societal challenges, which many different sectors interact to solve. The focus on problems, and new types of collaborations between public and private actors to solve them, creates the potential for greater spillovers than a sectoral approach. It was this approach that put a man on the moon, and lay behind the creation of the Internet and entire new sectors like biotechnology, nanotechnology, and the emerging green technology revolution. It is not enough to fix market and system failures: policy-makers need to be more future focused, creating and shaping new markets.

Carlos Moedas, EC Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, cited Professor Mazzucato’s work on mission-oriented innovation in a recent speech saying: "We need to define [innovation] missions that breakdown silos... We need to set our eyes on a specific target, and drive our scientific efforts towards reaching that target. And we need to be ambitious about it.  As Mariana Mazzucato says: 'Innovation-led growth is not just about fixing a market failure but also about setting direction and creating new markets. If you just tackle the market failure you can head into the wrong direction.' So we need to set direction for the future, and having a clear mission is a way of doing that.” Find out more

Current projects

UCL Commission for Mission Oriented Innovation and Industrial Strategy (MOIIS)

The purpose of the new UCL Commission on Mission-Oriented Innovation and Industrial Strategy is to consider how to transform these ‘grand challenges’ into concrete ‘missions’. Read more.

Mission-Oriented Innovation Network (MOIN)

MOIN brings together leading global policy-making institutions, to share the challenges and opportunities they face when trying to create and nurture public value. Read more.

Collaboration with the RSA on a pilot project for green cities

IIPP is working with the Royal Society for the Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) on a pilot project focussed on applying mission-oriented innovation policy to a challenge at city level. Read more.

Mission-oriented policies in Latin America

A new collaboration with the Inter-American Development Bank will look at how strengthening innovation systems in Latin America is key to future growth opportunities. Read more.

These projects build on Professor Mazzucato's previous work on Mission-Oriented Finance for Innovation

Research publications

Missions: A beginner's guide
Policy Brief
Ref: IIPP Brief 09

Mission-Oriented Innovation Policy: Challenges and Opportunities
Working Paper
Ref: IIPP WP 2017-01

Thinking About Technology Policy: ‘Market Failures’ versus ‘Innovation systems’
Working Paper
Ref: IIPP WP 2017-02

Mission-Oriented Research & Innovation in the European Union
EU Report for the European Commission

Further reading

Mariana Mazzucato (2017), "Mission-Oriented Innovation Policy: challenges and opportunities", IIPP Working Paper 2017-1.  This working paper is simultaneously published as a joint RSA/IIPP report.

Mariana Mazzucato (2013), "The Entrepreneurial State: debunking public vs. private sector myths", Anthem Press: London, UK, ISBN 9780857282521, US edition (Public Affairs) and translated into Italian (Laterza), German (Kunstmann), Spanish (RBA Books), Portuguese (Companhia Das Letras), Dutch (Nieuw Amsterdam), Greek (Kritiki), and forthcoming in Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Polish.

Mariana Mazzucato and Caetano Penna (2016) “Beyond market failures: the market creating and shaping roles of state investment banks”, Journal of Economic Policy Reform, 19(4): 305-326, SPRU working paper version

Mariana Mazzucato (2016) "From Market Fixing to Market-Creating: A new framework for innovation policy",  Special Issue of Industry and Innovation: “Innovation Policy – can it make a difference?”, 23 (2)

Mariana Mazzucato and Cian O'Donovan (2016) "The BBC as market shaper and creator" in Rethinking the BBC: Public media in the 21st Century, Seth-Smith, N., et. al. (eds.), Commonwealth Publishing. 

Mariana Mazzucato and Caetano Penna (2016) ‘The Brazilian Innovation System: A Mission-Oriented Policy Proposal’, Report for the Brazilian Government,commissioned by the Brazilian Ministry for Science, Technology and Innovation through the Centre for Strategic Management and Studies.

Mariana Mazzucato and Caetano Penna, Eds (2015) "Mission-Oriented Finance for Innovation: New Ideas for Investment-Led Growth", Rowman & Littlefield, Book, ISBN 978-1-78348-495-9

Mariana Mazzucato (2014), Think Piece: “A Mission-Oriented Approach to Building the Entrepreneurial State”, paper commissioned by Innovate UK-Technology Strategy Board November 2014T14/165