Factors for success for European mission-oriented research and innovation policy

29 May 2018

In preparation for the development of Horizon Europe and as partner of a European consortium, TNO has done extensive research, in two studies, on the concept of mission-oriented research and innovation policy, its potential impact and critical success factors.

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Mission-oriented research and innovation policy

In a recent communication on its renewed European agenda for research and innovation, the European Commission presents the contours for the introduction of a mission-oriented policy approach in the new Framework Programme Horizon Europe. Missions are intended to accelerate the search for solutions to complex social challenges and the realisation of breakthroughs in technology and innovation. To be successful, missions should have a clear direction and a time horizon.

The results of the first study, for which more than 200 worldwide mission-oriented initiatives were analysed, reveal that 1) mission-oriented policy comes in a wide range of guises, 2) a clear direction (directionality) and a clear time horizon (intentionality) are key qualities of mission-oriented policy, and 3) a distinction can be made between missions aiming to achieve the acceleration of scientific and technological progress (accelerators) and missions focusing on societal challenges and ‘transformative’ changes (transformers), often supported by accelerators.

The study also shows that missions can be successful provided they can build on existing initiatives and have a broad base of involvement of all stakeholders. Essential factors are clear and mission-appropriate governance structures and the right mix of policy instruments, including flanking measures, such as regulation. All existing expertise and knowledge, often based on earlier research and embedding in existing scientific and innovation systems, can increase the likelihood of success. For missions focusing on transformative change in which solutions to complex societal challenges are sought, the active involvement of all stakeholders, including citizens, is a necessary condition. This increases not only the legitimacy and thus the support base, but also offers a forum for co-creation.

Implementation of missions at European level: selection, design and governance crucial

To maximise the impact of missions in the new Framework Programme, it is essential not only that the right missions are selected, but also that the missions have both an appropriate design and good governance. The impact of missions will vary for the individual member states. Consequently, a phased implementation can make sense, starting, for example, with more scientific-oriented missions, followed by missions in which the emphasis lies on applied knowledge, innovation and the commercial launch, or a combined model.

To gain an impression of this potential impact in the new Framework Programme, in the second study a number of possible scenarios of how a mission may contribute to Horizon Europe were analysed, a large survey was held among Horizon 2020 participants and interviews and workshops were organised. The findings of the survey and the workshops show that a broad support base exists for the introduction of missions.

Importance of missions for The Netherlands

On 7 June 2018 the European Commission is publishing its initial proposals for Horizon Europe. After the summer, the proposal containing a selection of missions is expected. As part of the 'Staat van Nederland Innovatieland 2018' (The State of Dutch Innovation 2018) initiative, TNO is currently working on a further elaboration of the concept and is identifying the possibilities the mission-oriented policy approach offers the Netherlands. As part of this task, TNO is looking explicitly at the European developments and how the Netherlands can align itself with them.


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Arjen Goetheer

  • innovation policy
  • strategy
  • foresight
  • innovation hubs

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