What Mission-Driven Government Means

Article by Mariana Mazzucato & Rainer Kattel: “The COVID-19 pandemic, inflation, and wars have alerted governments to the realities of what it takes to tackle massive crises. In extraordinary times, policymakers often rediscover their capacity for bold decision-making. The rapid speed of COVID-19 vaccine development and deployment was a case in point.

But preparing for other challenges requires more sustained efforts in “mission-driven government.” Recalling the successful language and strategies of the Cold War-era moonshot, governments around the world are experimenting with ambitious policy programs and public-private partnerships in pursuit of specific social, economic, and environmental goals. For example, in the United Kingdom, the Labour Party’s five-mission campaign platform has kicked off a vibrant debate about whether and how to create a “mission economy.”

Mission-driven government is not about achieving doctrinal adherence to some original set of ideas; it is about identifying the essential components of missions and accepting that different countries might need different approaches. As matters stand, the emerging landscape of public missions is characterized by a re-labeling or repurposing of existing institutions and policies, with more stuttering starts than rapid takeoffs. But that is okay. We should not expect a radical change in policymaking strategies to happen overnight, or even over one electoral cycle.

Particularly in liberal democracies, ambitious change requires engagement across a wide range of constituencies to secure public buy-in, and to ensure that the benefits will be widely shared. The paradox at the heart of mission-driven government is that it pursues ambitious, clearly articulated policy goals through myriad policies and programs based on experimentation.

This embrace of experimentation is what separates today’s missions from the missions of the moonshot era (though it does echo the Roosevelt administration’s experimental approach during the 1930s New Deal). Major societal challenges, such as the urgent need to create more equitable and sustainable food systems, cannot be tackled the same way as a moon landing. Such systems consist of multiple technological dimensions (in the case of food, these include everything from energy to waste management), and involve widespread and often disconnected agents and an array of cultural norms, values, and habits…(More)”.