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MISSIONS | Mission-Oriented Research & Innovation in the European Union. A problem-solving approach to fuel innovation-led growth

Uploaded by RRI Tools on 22 February 2018

Mission-Oriented Research & Innovation in the European Union. A problem-solving approach to fuel innovation-led growth. Report by Mariana MAZZUCATO. 2018. European Commission.
Directorate-General for Research and Innovation


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.

To find a way to bring together the triple objectives of smart innovation-led growth, inclusion and sustainability, we must first answer the critical question of how to direct innovation to solve the pressing global challenges of our time.

Europe has been thinking about and tackling such challenges for a long time, including through Horizon 2020. In this report I examine and explain how research and innovation can not only stimulate growth and economic activity but how it can also actively direct it towards meeting
global challenges by transforming them into concrete, measurable, and, most importantly, achievable missions.

I look at what we can learn from the missions of the past — like the Apollo Program — and how to apply those lessons to the more complex challenges of today. A key lesson is that missions must be bold, activating innovation across sectors, across actors and across disciplines. They must also enable bottom-up solutions and experimentation. I provide examples of what possible future missions at EU level could look like. I stress that these
examples do not presume to pre-empt what must be a participatory selection process. Rather, they are intended to trigger the imagination and ambition of participants in that process.

I developed this report taking into consideration the Interim Evaluation of Horizon 2020, the ESIR Memorandum , the RISE Perspective on Mission-oriented R&I Policy,  and dedicated case study reports.

In the last months, I have held a series of targeted discussions with relevant stakeholder groups5. I also had the opportunity to give a keynote speech, followed by a discussion, to the
Competitiveness Council on the topic of mission-oriented policy across Europe on December 1, 2017 based on my working paper Mission-oriented Innovation Policy: Challenges and Opportunities.

All of these inputs have been invaluable to me in developing a vision of what a European mission-oriented research and innovation policy could look like and I have tried to include in this report some of the insights and feedback received. 

Missions provide a massive opportunity to increase the impact of European research and innovation, grasp the public imagination and make real progress on complex challenges. I hope this report will assist policy makers in designing and implementing the European missions of
the future, as well as nurture a new belief amongst EU citizens about what real collaboration across Europe can achieve.I thank everyone who has contributed for their engagement and dedication, which has given me a palpable sense of how powerful missions can be at bringing people together around ambitious common goals. 



The ability of innovation to spur economic growth has long been recognised. Less recognised is the fact that innovation has not only a rate but also a direction. By
harnessing the directionality of innovation, we also harness the power of research and innovation to achieve wider social and policy aims as well as economic goals. Therefore, we can have innovation-led growth that is also more sustainable and equitable.

Finding ways to steer economic growth, and the European policy agenda, is difficult but necessary. Missions are a powerful tool to do this. They can provide the means to focus our research, innovation and investments on solving critical problems, while also spurring growth, jobs and resulting in positive spillovers across many sectors. Critically, by spearheading public research and innovation investments in new strategic areas that have the possibility to bring together different actors (public, private and third sector) and spurring
collaboration across different sectors (e.g. from transport to digital to nutrition) it is possible to awaken private sector investment that continues to lag. Indeed, what drives private investment is the perception of future growth opportunities. Missions help define those opportunities in ambitious ways.

Mission-oriented policies can be defined as systemic public policies that draw on frontier knowledge to attain specific goals or “big science deployed to meet big problems”. Missions provide a solution, an opportunity, and an approach to address the numerous challenges that people face in their daily lives. Whether that be to have clean air to breathe in congested cities, to live a healthy and independent life at all ages, to have access to digital technologies
that improve public services, or to have better and cheaper treatment of diseases like cancer or obesity that continue to affect billions of people across the globe. To engage research and innovation in meeting such challenges, a clear direction must be given, while also enabling bottom-up solutions. The debate about directionality should involve a wide array of stakeholders, each contributing to the key questions: What are the key challenges facing society; How can concrete missions help solve those challenges; How can the missions be best designed to enable participation across different actors, bottom-up experimentation and system-wide innovation? 


The report recommends five key criteria for the selection of missions at EU level. They must:

  • Be bold and inspirational, with wide societal relevance
  • Be ambitious, but with realistic research & innovation actions
  • Foster cross-disciplinary, cross-sectoral and cross-actor innovation
  • Set a clear direction: targeted, measureable and time-bound
  • Require multiple, bottom-up solutions

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