UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose


Mission-oriented innovation policy

Mission-oriented policy 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

A new framework

IIPP is exploring how a new framework could  better envision, justify, measure and assess public investments, working within an eco-system of public, private and third sector actors across the innovation chain. It focuses on the role of the state as shaping and creating markets, not only fixing them – and enables the development of economic policy to be informed by a broader theoretical underpinning. It addresses four key questions or essential pillars, which have been labelled the ROAR framework:

  • ROUTES. How to overcome the fear of ‘picking winners’, focusing the question not on whether to ‘pick’ but on how to make strategic choices around societal and technological missions, which can ‘tilt’ the playing field around transformative change across many sectors. This pillar is about 'directionality'.
  • ORGANISATIONAL CAPACITY. How to build the type of public sector institutions that welcome the fundamental uncertainty—and hence risk-taking—inherent in the innovation process—becoming learning institutions. This pillar is about viewing ‘policy as process’ and building learning organizations to engage in that process.
  • ASSESSMENT. How to develop new tools to measure and assess the dynamic impact of different types of public policies that aim to create markets not only fix them. This pillar is about building a dynamic approach to the assessment of policies to replace, or at times complement, the more static cost-benefit approaches.
  • RISKS AND REWARDS. How to develop mechanisms so that the public and private sectors share the risks and also the rewards. This pillar is about thinking of ways to allow smart, innovation-led growth to also be inclusive growth.

Mission-Oriented Innovation Network (MOIN)

IIPP is developing a partnership programme, Mission Oriented Innovation Network (MOIN), with global policy-makers to explore how mission-oriented innovation policies can tackle grand challenges. ‘Moin’ means ‘hello’ in many Northern European languages. The acronym sums up the network as one interlinking peers who learn from each other. Partners will help to shape the strategic direction of the network as well as be key funders of its activities.

MOIN launched on 12th March 2018, and offers a unique opportunity for partners to learn from like-minded organisations from diverse backgrounds, with the aim of empowering them in the pursuit of public value driven innovations. For more information, and a full list of the founding partners of MOIN visit the page on the partnerships section of our website.

Policy impact

IIPP is currently helping both the UK government and the European Commission to think about how to transform grand challenges into mission-oriented policies.

The UK government released a White Paper on its Industrial Strategy on 26 November 2017. The White Paper specifically cited IIPP’s first Working Paper, on Mission-Oriented Innovation Policy: Challenges and Opportunities:

“[We will] direct the government’s convening power, promote exports and inward investments, and build consumer trust in new technologies. Where appropriate, teams will develop ‘missions’ to tackle the Grand Challenges. They involve tackling specific problems, such as reducing carbon emissions by a given percentage over a specific year period, using well defined and concrete goals to allow progress to be monitored and assessed, and the option to change course when appropriate.”

From 1 January 2018, IIPP Director Professor Mazzucato became the Special Advisor of Carlos Moedas, the European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, to help lead the thinking about mission oriented innovation in the Framework 9 for the Horizon 2020 programme. On 22nd February, the European Commission published Prof Mazzucato's report Mission-Oriented Research & Innovation in the European Union

For more information about IIPP's work in this sphere, visit our dedicated Industrial Strategy page.

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

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