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Implementing missions: Learnings from Greater Manchester

Photo by Mangopear creative on Unsplash

By Ryan Bellinson and Robyn Smith

This blog is part of IIPP’s series on mission-oriented innovation at a local level. The first blog in the series can be read here.

Think revolution, think Manchester. The Greater Manchester city-region became the world’s first industrial metropolis during the Industrial Revolution; gave rise to the UK’s modern labour union and co-operative movements; and was the epicentre of the British suffragettes.

Today Greater Manchester is aiming to continue its pioneering legacy by becoming one of the world’s leading green city-regions. The Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) is using a mission-oriented approach to reach carbon neutral living in the city-region by 2038, which was developed together with our team at the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose (IIPP).

To meet the scale and pace of change required for the green transition, action is needed from all actors — from transportation engineers and electricity suppliers developing electric vehicle charging infrastructure networks, to manufacturers, builders and planners creating deep retrofit programmes at scale, to residents switching to renewable energy suppliers, to businesses procuring zero waste materials that move towards a circular economy.

Creating a mission roadmap

Mission roadmaps typically distinguish between ‘sectors’, the industrial and service groups that carry out innovation activities, and ‘actors’, the individual organisations that steer and guide actions. By identifying key sectors in a mission roadmap and mapping impactful innovation opportunities, relevant actors can then crowd in their collaborative energy working as a ‘coalition of the willing’.

In 2018, IIPP and GMCA worked together to create a mission roadmap, detailing the sectors, actors and hypothetical mission projects that could sit beneath the mission of ‘carbon neutral living within the Greater Manchester economy by 2038’. This was the first regional mission roadmap in the UK.

Greater Manchester’s mission was inspired by the top-down leadership of the city-region’s Mayor, Andy Burnham, who pledged to accelerate the local area’s carbon-neutrality goal, and through a bottom-up co-design process which brought together technical carbon budgets and an extensive public engagement process. IIPP helped develop Greater Manchester’s mission roadmap by bringing these components together and analysing how they could support innovation and global competitiveness.

Operationalising a mission: sectors and actors

Achieving carbon neutrality at the local level demands innovative policymaking and implementation approaches that will enable an entire city or region to build momentum and catalyse activity from diverse actors along a collective, transformation journey. For Greater Manchester to achieve its carbon neutrality ambition, the city-region needs to deliver annual emissions cuts of around 15% per year through 2038.

Source: Greater Manchester Green City Region

Over the course of 2019 and 2020, Greater Manchester has been working on this journey of implementation. In the governance of GMCA’s mission, sectors and actors have effectively become indivisible. These lines have been blurred through five Challenge Groups — the primary governance structure of the mission where influential actors across the city-region stimulate and drive forward innovation activities.

Challenge Groups are represented by a range of stakeholders from voluntary sector and charity organisations, to SMEs and academic institutes, to consultancies and utilities, to public sector organisations. The Challenge Groups are:

  • Low Carbon Buildings
  • Energy Innovation
  • Sustainable Consumption and Production
  • Natural Capital
  • Communication and Behaviour Change

Missions are designed to facilitate risk-taking that can enable long-term innovations which may produce spillovers, not captured in market impact assessment or cost benefit analyses. The Challenge Groups aim to accomplish this by incubating activity within specific mission projects through ‘task and finish groups’ that are composed of relevant Challenge Group members, sometimes from more than one group.

Example of the Challenge Group with task and finish group structure. Adapted from GMCA

To take one example, the Energy Innovation Challenge Group has sought to support this form of mission-oriented innovation through the development and recently launched a new university-led Energy Innovation Agency in partnership with the public sector organisations and private energy providers. By enabling risk-seeking long-term research and development that will have the potential to accelerate the mission’s progress, whilst also delivering present emissions reductions, the Energy Innovation Agency has resulted from the mission’s governance approach and has challenged the GMCA to take on a dynamic market-shaping role.

Taking the learning into the future

IIPP and GMCA are continuing to work together in a partnership that will support GMCA to advance its capabilities that are needed to govern its bold mission. IIPP hopes this learning can enable the progress of GMCA’s mission activities accelerate and also be used to support other cities begin exploring mission-oriented innovation in their own contexts.

For more information about IIPP’s work with GMCA and cities get in touch with Ryan Bellinson: r.bellinson@ucl.ac.uk.

Read more here about our ongoing work with GMCA supported by the UCL Grand Challenges.



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UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose

UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose

Changing how public value is imagined, practiced and evaluated to tackle societal challenges | Director: Mariana Mazzucato | Deputy Director: Rainer Kattel