20. Transformative missions and STI policies

Convenors: Jakob Edler, Mireille Matt, Wolfgang Polt and Matthias Weber.

Session type: Full paper session.


In recent years we have witnessed a shift in the framing and claims of innovation policy, and to some extent science and technology policy as well. Increasingly, science, technology and innovation (STI) support by the state is formulated and implemented with the claim to accomplish “missions”. In this framing, missions are more or less clearly defined problems or goals of high societal priority. So-called “mission-oriented innovation policies” seek to orientate the production of scientific knowledge, technology and innovation towards those societally defined missions.

This shift marks a profound shift of established rationales for STI policy. The term “missions” has been used before, but with different meanings than in today’s debates.

The fundamental difference in the new approach to missions is the fact that STI policy is now called upon to directly and intentionally support the solution of societal problems in areas that are traditionally situated in other policy domains, such as energy, mobility, health, etc. The reasons for those shifts are manifold and need further scrutiny. In the European discourse, there has been an increasing perception that science, technology and innovation have contributed to societal developments that have become normatively unacceptable. All of those developments have undermined the legitimacy of traditional STI funding and policy, and triggered the search for approaches that allocate more responsibility for societally beneficial STI activities back to the state. The answer is to define missions as politically defined areas of search for solutions to societal problems, and to design and implement STI policies to support them.

This new claim has potentially severe consequences for the role and governance of STI policy, for the relationship of policy levels, for the design of instruments, and for the relative role of STI policy vis-a-vis other policies. STI policy is now increasingly legitimized also through its contribution to solving problems. Reorienting STI towards societal problems needs changes of incentive structures and framework conditions, of economic conditions and dynamics, of actor`s abilities, practices, routines, and expectations, and change of the ways actors interplay with each other and with technologies. In short, to “accomplish” societal missions, STI policy needs to contribute to systems transformation, but it is never sufficient to achieve it alone.

The proposed track would bring together invited contributions from renowned resear-chers to present their current work, with the perspective to elaborate these contributions for publication in a book. This book seeks to make a major conceptual and empirical contribution to the understanding of policies that mobilize STI activities to support politically defined missions understood as systems transformation, which we label – for now – as transformational STI policies.

The invited contributions would cover the main topical areas of such a book, namely:

A conceptual part, which would discuss

  • The very nature of transformational STI (TranSTI) policies, the theoretical and conceptual rationale and intervention logics etc.
  • Analysis of historical developments of the mission approach to help us better understand the current mission approach.
  • Systems transformations and the role of policy
  • Political Economy of TranSTI polices, in particular in relation to conflicting interests among political groups, actors and stakeholders

A comparative empirical part would discus

  • TranSTI policies in different political systems around the globe, includinmg missions on the regional or urban level
  • Different types of transformational areas, e.g. different examples of mission programmes in different policy and problem domains

A part on implementation of TranSTI (informed by current examples)

  • The challenge of governance – and the changing role of STI policy actors against the backdrop of the trajectories of political systems
  • Strategic intelligence for policymaking
  • Challenges for implementation capacities of current administrations

The track would consist of those invited presenters who are able to hand in substantial manuscripts in advance of the conference.