Mobile Transformative Innovation Lab (MoTIL) at IST 2021 – exploring mission-oriented innovation policies and transformative innovation policies

Thinking & Analysis

The Mobile Transformative Innovation Lab (MoTIL) team in TIPC organised a dialogue session called ‘Reflecting on Transformative Innovation Policy within and beyond the Transformative Innovation Policy Consortium’ on 8 October 2021 at IST 2021. The International Sustainability Transitions (IST) conference theme was “Mainstreaming sustainability transitions: From research towards impact”.

TIPC launched MoTIL last year, aiming to produce a central platform consolidating knowledge produced through the in-country work of TIP.

In doing so, MoTIL aims to also provide:

1) Comparative learning across various transformation contexts;
2) Creative ways of aggregating and representing learnings from each context (through the use of games, infographics);
3) Capacity building so that the tools, methods, and learnings can be used independently beyond TIPC.

All these roles of MoTIL are served through a ‘TIPC resource pack’ – a collection of learning materials, tools and comparisons – with the ambition to create long lasting impact from the five-year history of TIPC policy engagements.

This dialogue session at the IST conference aimed to provide a space to reflect on the role of TIPC as a global knowledge platform for the development of transformative innovation more broadly. We aimed to generate a debate about the enabling role of TIPC as a platform, network, and methodological approach, comparing lessons learned across different policy and geographical contexts.

 ‘No wind is favourable to the one who does not know to which port to sail’ (L. A. Seneca, 4 BC – AD 65).

Quoted by Dimitrios Pontikakis in his talk.

We brought together a panel of six researchers and policy makers who have been involved in TIPC or TIP work in different organisations and countries. The session’s thematic focus was on implementing TIP – drawing from the experiences of TIPC but not only – in diverse contexts and how to achieve real impact. Thus, the session focused not only on TIPC but also on the experiences in conceptualising and implementing TIP and mission-oriented policies in the European Commission, the OECD, and elsewhere.

The panel discussion


  • Johan Schot – Professor of Comparative Global History, Utrecht Centre for Global Challenges and TIPC Founder & Academic Director.

He talked about the three broad objectives of TIPC as building a new narrative, policy experimentation using the TIP methodology of formative evaluation and 12 transformative outcomes, and network and capability building. Moreover, he highlighted some of the learnings from implementing TIP across three continents over the last 4 years, including: i) implementation of TIP as the third frame of innovation is challenging; ii) member organisations have weak capabilities for coordinating across multiple programs and organisations; and iii) there is value in reframing failure as something to learn from.

  • Alejandra Boni – Deputy Director of INGENIO-Polytechnic University of Valencia, Spain.

She reflected on her experiences doing formative evaluation in TIPC in terms of learnings, mainly from participating in experimental policy engagements with Vinnova and EIT-Climate KIC. She asked the following questions: to what extent TIPC researchers and evaluators are contributing to the transformation of the evaluation systems and what a formative evaluation approach can offer for this transformation.

From the European Commission:

  • Dimitrios Pontikakis (Joint Research Centre, Directorate B – Growth and Innovation, Unit B7: Knowledge for Finance, Innovation and Growth, European Commission).

Dimitrios reflected on the European Commission’s experience of introducing transformative innovation policies as a novel approach to innovation. The 3rd frame of innovation has inspired a rethinking of innovation in the Commission. He emphasised that the current climate emergency is a societal challenge facing researchers and policy makers, one with non-negotiable deadlines and requiring huge coordination. Referring to the capabilities for large-scale, long-term social action that were built up and led directly to the launch of Saturn V, the world’s most powerful rocket developed under the US Apollo program in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he said:

‘Humanity has since lost heavy-launch capability and there is no point in using the old “blueprint”… the world, in other words, has moved on.’

Dimitrios also gave three personal reflections on TIP in the EU: i) the EU does not (yet) have any formal transformative innovation policies, apart from the European Green Deal; ii) system-level evidence can change perspectives on transformation yet it is rarely available; and iii) evidence alone is insufficient; what is also required is a new framework for transformative stakeholder coordination that can create ‘safe spaces for experimentation’ and ‘build support coalitions.’

  • Johan Stierna (Joint Research Centre, Directorate B – Growth and Innovation, Unit B7: Knowledge for Finance, Innovation and Growth, European Commission).

Johan talked about the European Commission’s mission-oriented policy and how new concepts and paradigms find their way into EU policy. He highlighted how the European Commission is an organisation that is very open to external knowledge from experts and to new evidence. He gave the example of the European Green Deal as a big new mission of the Commission. He focused on the three phases that are involved in implementing new concepts and paradigms into EU policy. First, the identification phase, which is when new concepts and ideas are discussed and introduced. The Joint Research Centre is the Commission’s own ‘internal think tank’ and there are also people who work in the different Directorate Generals who proactively search for new ideas beyond the Commission. Moreover, the Commission draws on external knowledge and expertise on many different topics via expert groups, which is the mechanism of getting formalised, codified advice; each working group is usually active for 2 years. Second, there is a translation phase – translating the evidence and policy recommendations brought by the expert groups and reports into the language of the Commission. Third, an operationalisation phase which involves more translation of the concepts, negotiations between key stakeholders, and resilience on the part of actors to survive constantly changing policy process. Johan Stierna also highlighted three factors – organisations, people, and timing – that affect how new concepts and paradigms find their way into EU policy.

From the OECD:

  • Michael Keenan (Directorate for Science, Technology and Innovation, OECD).

He talked about the OECD’s approach to transformative innovation policy and in particular, their new Science and Technology Policy for 2025 and why a new approach is necessary now. Michael highlighted three key challenges for STI policy, namely the lack of in-house capabilities for TIP among policy makers in OECD member countries; the scale of the cross-governmental coordination that is needed; and finally, the linkages between national and multinational levels of governance.

From Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University:

  • Matthijs Janssen (Coordinator Mission-oriented Innovation Policy Observatory, and Innovation Studies, Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University). He spoke about the challenges and opportunities of implementing transformative innovation policy in various European contexts.

Matthijs has been coordinating the Mission-oriented Innovation Policy Observatory (MIPO) based at Utrecht University (see link) for the last 2 years. This observatory brings together researchers in innovation studies, transitions, and environmental governance as well as policy practitioners. MIPO has organised four seminars so far and aims to assess if mission-oriented innovation policies (MIPs) can be relevant for driving transformational change. He raised interesting questions, including what can policy makers take from TIP and TIPC and at what level should TIPC, for example, operate – should it only work at a bottom-up level by helping countries build and nurture niches, or also engage with national level policy makers by helping them develop the frameworks, regulations, and cross-governmental coordination required for transformative change? Maybe, as Sandra Boni (INGENIO) pointed out in the Q&A, TIPC should work more with regional level policy makers where, in some contexts (e.g., Catalonia in Spain) there is more potential for implementing TIP than at the national level.

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