Last year, the European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, Carlos Moedas, invited me to draft strategic recommendations on mission-oriented research and innovation in the EU to guide the future European Union Framework Programme for Research and Innovation.
For the next framework programme (Framework 9), a mission approach will help steer investments towards tackling challenges using a more focussed problem-solving lens.
Problems are more specific than challenges, but much broader than a specific technology or a sector.
Indeed, the moon mission required many different sectors to be involved — from aerospace to textiles, and many different actors to work together on multiple solutions.
Today’s missions are more complex and ‘wicked’ than going to the moon.
By setting missions that require different sectors to work together — it is possible to create instruments that reward those businesses willing and able to co-invest alongside investments by the European Commission and member states.
It is not about subsidies, but about co-investments along the entire innovation chain.The world is afflicted by problems that people experience in their daily lives: clean air in congested cities, a healthy and independent life in old age, access to digital technologies that improve public services, and treatment of diseases like cancer or obesity that continue to afflict millions of people across the globe.What is the relationship between these problems and the dynamics of science, research and innovation?This is at the heart of what Dick Nelson meant in his excellent work on ‘The Moon and the Ghetto’, where he asked how it could be that we got a man to the moon and back, and have not been able to solve key issues around inequality, such as the emergence of ghettos.Wicked problems require more attention to ways in which social issues interact with political and technological issues, the need for smart regulation, and the critical feedback processes across the entire innovation chain.In the report I set out five key criteria for selecting missions: I also provide examples of what possible future missions at EU level could look like, which include a plastic-free ocean, 100 carbon neutral cities by 2030, and cutting dementia by 50%.Our work on mission-oriented policy is also helping to shape domestic policy here in the UK.And how can we use innovation to build cities that are more enjoyable to live in?The good news is that we don’t have to look very far for lessons to learn from.And while tax incentives (and cuts) might increase profits, they often don’t increase investment.Mission oriented policies can, if designed appropriately, catalyse expectations about new opportunities and in so doing catalyse cross sectoral investments which can also better balance economies that are often too skewed in particular areas.