Utrecht University’s “Mission-Oriented Innovation Policy Observatory”



The “Mission-Oriented Innovation Policy Observatory” (MIPO) is an initiative by the Copernicus Institute for Sustainable Development, Utrecht University. Its objective is to create an understanding of the challenges and promises of mission-oriented innovation policies (MIPs), by uniting practitioners and scholars from innovation, transition and governance studies.

The focus of the MIPO is aligned with theme 4 of the TIPC call for projects: Governance and politics of transformative innovation policy in connection with SDGs. The Observatory aims to provide a conceptual basis for characterizing, comparing and reviewing SDG-based innovation policy strategies following a “mission”-approach. This entails strategies designed to solve selected societal challenges by supporting synergetic co-evolution of technological and socio-economic changes, for instance along the direction of prioritized innovation pathways. Of special interest for the Observatory is the role of multiple governmental and non-governmental actors in governance processes related to the framing of policy strategies (rationales), as well as the selection and legitimization of prioritized innovation pathways and the design of actual transformative policies.

Within the emerging ‘transformative innovation policies’ debate, much attention has been paid to the mere importance of novel policy frames for solving societal challenges, as well as to questions regarding the effectiveness of actual policy instruments. What remains relatively overlooked are intermediate governance-issues ultimately determining which challenges are being addressed; which directions (pathways and underlying projects) are being chosen for solving the challenges; and which policies are being implemented. This is largely a matter of complex political processes in which various kinds of stakeholders continuously aim to influence each other’s agendas and activities.

As (mission-oriented) transformative policies are inherently about orchestrating and adapting collective innovation efforts, they can only be assessed by also analysing the very formulation of priorities and policies. To do so, the Observatory monitors how various types of actors perform ‘governance functions’ at the level of strategic orientation and policy coordination.

The topics we study include:

  • Conceptualisation of MIPs
  • MIP case studies: ‘what makes good MIP’?
    • What does it activate, coordinate, initiate, aggregate and imagine? Who does?
    • Organizational / governance structures & approaches to decision making
    • How to assess missions?
  • Comparison of different types of MIP, to induce to a coherent framework:
    • Mission with different wickedness of problems and solution
    • Missions demanding technological vs. behavioural solutions
    • Missions that require systems transformation vs. optimization
    • Missions that focus on solution develop, diffusion, or both
    • Missions of old (from before 2000s) vs. new (after 2000s)
    • Geographical scope of missions (local, national, supranational)
    • Nested hierarchy of societal problems, its missions and their projects
  • Policy adoption: Analysis of how ‘missions thinking’ is diffused and implemented within governments: old wine in new bottles or a new approach?
  • Mission-oriented Innovation Systems (MIS):
    • How do these MIS develop? Which roles are played by various actors? How to MIS tap into existing socio-technical structures?
    • What lessons can be derived from a dynamic process view on MIS?

Project Resources

Janssen, M. 2019. Legitimation and effects of mission-oriented innovation policies: A spillover perspective. DRUID conference paper.

Janssen, M., Hekkert, M.P., Frenken, K. 2019. Missiegedreven innovatiebeleid: Twee vliegen in één klap? Mejudice, 25/9/2019.

SER, 2018. Missie-gedreven innovatiebeleid voor energie- en klimaatambities. Den Haag. Sociaal-Economische Raad.

Wanzenböck, I., Frenken, K., 2018. The subsidiarity principle : Turning challenge-oriented innovation policy on its head. Papers in Evolutionary Economic Geography #18.06.

Wanzenböck, I., Wesseling, J., Frenken, K., Hekkert, M., Weber, M., 2019. A framework for mission-oriented innovation policy : Alternative pathways through the problem-solution space, SocArXiv Working Paper.

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