The Rathenau Instituut's first point of attention concerning mission-driven innovation policy concerns the level of democracy. Transformative missions focus on social issues and are partly financed from public funds. The organisation, governance and execution of the missions therefore also require accountability according to democratic principles. This applies to the formulation and selection of missions, the programming of projects and initiatives, the distribution of money, the implementation of projects and evaluation. Precisely because of the innovative approach, which crosses boundaries between organisations (both within the government and between public and private parties), this accountability is not self-evident. However, interest groups, such as LTO and nature and environmental organisations, can help to generate support for a programme by helping to decide on the course of action on behalf of the business community or organised citizens. But they are not accountable to society outside their own constituencies, so their efforts do not guarantee democratic legitimacy.
The effectiveness of mission-driven research and innovation programmes is our second focus area. How do you design embedding programmes that actually contribute to accelerating a transition? A new meat substitute only really contributes to circular agriculture if it can be produced on a large scale, if there is a good earning model for a producer, if the product complies with food safety rules and if the meat substitute is appreciated by the consumer. The way in which the social embedding of an innovation can be achieved cannot be clearly defined in advance in terms of objectives - let alone how the innovation and embedding process contributes to accelerating a transition. The dynamic nature of transitions calls for an adaptive approach in which the goals and activities are regularly adjusted, depending on social or technological developments. Flexibility, however, is often at odds with effectiveness. Principles of transdisciplinary research can provide direction in this regard. (Lang et al., 2012, Hoffmann et al., 2019).
A possible pitfall is that the government tackles a transformer mission as an accelerator mission. This underestimates the far-reaching changes in policy and governance associated with a transformer mission. Accelerator missions try to accelerate technological development, while transformer missions try to use research and technology as part of a broader approach to guide and accelerate a process of societal change.
Finally, the management of missions requires attention. Who monitors the coherence and progress of a transformer mission? Because of the public nature of the mission, it is obvious that a government organisation will take this responsibility. But the question is whether a ministry is equipped for this. After decades of new public management, the ministries have put a great deal of professional knowledge at a distance and have become more dependent on external advisors and knowledge organisations to implement their policies. In addition, a lot of policy implementation is accommodated by implementing organisations and there are many generalists working in ministries who, moreover, regularly change functions, which limits knowledge accumulation. Transformative innovation policy requires different ways of operating on the part of the government (Kattel en Mazzucato, 2018). This requires new knowledge, skills, working methods and routines. It requires different competencies and capacities in government. It will have to operate itself more as a dynamic, responsive and learning organisation. It must not shy away from uncertainty, but embrace exploration and experimentation in order to deal with it properly.
To combine existing practices and policy instruments with new experimental approaches in innovation policy, public authorities need dynamic capacities to respond to changes in the environment. This concept comes from the business world and refers to the ability to perform within the current business model (to maintain turnover and profit) while innovating (to remain competitive in the future). It is the ability to continue to exploit existing strengths and explore and try out new opportunities at the same time. In management literature one speaks of ambidextrousness (literally: two-handedness). A government that wants to use transformative innovation policy to accelerate sustainability transitions must invest in dynamic capacities.