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The 2013 publication of Professor Mazzucato’s The Entrepreneurial State: debunking public vs. private sector myths brought new attention to the historical success and future potential of mission-oriented innovation policy, both as a means to tackle difficult challenges facing societies and as the basis for a new approach to growth policy.

It was mission-oriented strategic investments – made right across the entire innovation chain by a decentralised network of public agencies, simulating both supply and demand – that lay behind major technological breakthroughs like the internet, new sectors like biotech, nanotech, and emerging green tech.

In these examples, public agencies went well beyond the strictures of the traditional ‘market failure’ approach to policy-making.  These agencies not only fixed markets. They actively created and shaped them too, giving new direction to innovation and growth. The same has been true in areas as diverse as broadcasting where agencies like the BBC have used mission-oriented policies, such as the ‘learning programme’ in the 80s, which fuelled investments in the private sector.

Indeed, business investment follows where investors see the opportunity to profit from new technological and market opportunities. The animal spirits of business investment are not simply assumed but actively created by such strategic public investments. Applied systematically, such an approach can bring new focus to solving complex societal problems, stimulating innovation and private investment, and giving direction to growth across economies.

But when policy-makers have implemented mission-oriented policies, they have had to work outside established policy frameworks, and have often had difficulties justifying their goals and achievements using existing static metrics like cost-benefit analysis. What is needed is a policy-framework they can work within: a new framework to justify and guide bold policies, and especially to evaluate and assess their impact dynamically. 

The project’s goal is to confront this challenge. Working with public organisations from around the world, the project will combine academic rigour with practical expertise in a mutual learning, co-design, policy and impact network.

The purpose of the network will be to develop the new conceptual framework, analytical tools and policy apparatus needed to enable policy-makers to apply mission-oriented policy in practice today. It will draw lessons from mission-oriented policies of the past, which solved big problems, shaped and created markets and stimulated innovation across many sectors. Working together with academic researchers, learning from each other, and by using a range of methodologies drawn from design thinking, the network will wrestle with problems, co-create, develop and prototype solutions, codify learning and spread ideas.


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