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Mariana Mazzucato in Australia talks missions, public value and the Entrepreneurial State

Written and supplied by the Centre for Policy Development | @CentrePolDev

Mariana Mazzucato delivers the John Menadue Oration

Life is all about timing.

In the world of ideas and policy making, there are moments when the search for new frames of reference to view the world and its challenges meets a set of ideas to craft enduring solutions that clearly suit the times.

The visit to Australia by Professor Mariana Mazzucato, instigated by the Centre for Policy Development, supported by the University of Technology Sydney and the Monash Sustainable Development Institute, might turn out to be one of those moments. Right time, right person, right place.

Rounding out another year of often bewildering policy ineptitude and political confusion here and around the world, Professor Mazzucato’s visit to Australia, just before the long summer break, found a rhythm whose promise spoke of the possibility of a new direction, and a new energy, to prosecute some truly big and bold “missions” that tackle our toughest and most urgent economic, social and environmental challenges.

And, in the process, a direction from which we might replenish Australia’s depleted stocks of public trust and engagement with citizens and communities.

The visit was in part the result of an invitation to Mariana Mazzucato to deliver the second annual John Menadue Oration for the Centre for Policy Development (CPD). But it turned into something much bigger and with a potentially much larger and longer term significance.

Three questions

Three big questions framed Professor Mazzucato’s visit to Australia:

  • Would the visit raise awareness in the Australian innovation and policy community of the Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose (IIPP) and of Mariana’s thinking about reframing public value, the role of the state and the importance of mission-driven innovation?
  • Would the visit engage and influence the thinking and attitudes of a sufficiently large and diverse group of policymakers, leaders in government, academia, industry and civil society, social and policy entrepreneurs, media and the wider public?
  • Could the visit lead to real impact and a willingness to take up Professor Mazzucato’s ideas and insights and turn them into a distinctively Australian project for mission-led innovation to tackle some of our biggest challenges?

The answer to the first two questions is emphatically “yes”, which means the chances of seeing, in the period ahead, real evidence of a positive answer to the third question is very high.

Below is a summary of the events, attendees and themes under discussion.

Monday 10 December

Mariana Mazzucato with the Hon. Chris Bowen MP

Mariana Mazzucato with the Hon. Chris Bowen MP

Professor Mazzucato met with the Hon. Chris Bowen MP, the Opposition Shadow Treasurer in the Federal Parliament and other members of the Opposition economic policy team, including Shadow Finance Minister, Jim Chalmers, and Shadow Minister for Justice and Financial Services, Clare O’Neil. The focus of the conversation was how to translate the mission-led innovation model into policy and strategy.

In the evening, Mariana was hosted by the Vice Chancellor of the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), Professor Attila Brungs, to deliver a public lecture on future directions for innovation policy and lessons for Australia. Attended by over 250 people, the lecture navigated the three big pieces of work — the entrepreneurial state, the reinvention of capitalism and the rediscovery of the economics of value, and the rising significance of public value.

Tuesday 9 December

In the morning, a policy breakfast was hosted by Martin Hoffman, Secretary of the New South Wales Department of Finance, Services and Innovation.

Participants included some of the leading figures in innovation policy and strategy at the national and state level and the conversation explored the role, capabilities and culture of the public sector and its leadership. Mariana explored why that formed such a central theme in her framing of mission-led innovation, what specific capabilities were now at a premium in a confident and creative public service, and how some of those capabilities can be nurtured and deployed.

Later that morning, Mariana met with Ian Learmonth, CEO of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), one of the world’s largest “green banks” and an increasingly influential provider of long-term, “patient” capital and investment to support a major transition to green economy, particularly in energy. The conversation explored ways in which the CEFC could engage Mariana’s thinking and experience to help to frame more effectively both the work of CEFC and the power and impact of new forms of bold investment strategies for different aspects of Australia’s green transition.

Mariana Mazzucato with John Menadue

On Tuesday evening, more than 500 people crowded into Sydney’s iconic Carriageworks venue to hear Mariana deliver the second annual John Menadue Oration for the Centre for Policy Development. The Oration’s theme was “Can the State deliver?” In a powerful presentation that navigated the full range of her research and work, including especially the importance of changing the language of value and the expectations of government, Mariana’s emphatic answer was “yes”.

Wednesday 12 December

Roundtable discussion in Melbourne

The visit shifted to Melbourne and started with an invitation-only roundtable that brought together a formidable group of senior policy makers, investors, businesses people and innovation leaders to tackle tough questions about how Australia could reconfigure public policy and delivery systems to tackle its big challenges. What would that look like in Australia? What would be some of the practical considerations of reform and new practice for the public service, for policy and political leadership, for the interaction between business and government and, crucially, for the quality and value of engagement with citizens and communities?

Prior to the round table, Mariana met with Ken Smith, Dean of the Australia New Zealand School of Government to discuss ways in which the IIPP’s teaching and research work, including its new MPA in Management and Public Value, could be integrated into teaching and learning platforms for Australian leaders in government, business and civil society.

The day concluded with a dinner, hosted by the Vice Chancellor and President of Monash University, Professor Margaret Gardner. Around the table, the themes of the roundtable were explored in more depth and detail — what will it take to shape big, bold public missions for public value with a new language about, and confidence in, the capacity of the public sector.

Thursday 13 December

In the morning, Mariana met with a group of senior officials from the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU). The conversation surfaced some important observations about the role and value of unions, both as part of a larger movement in the wider civil society as well their role as organisations in the industrial relations and employment system.

The ACTU’s emerging “Just Transitions” initiative in the energy and resources sector was seen firmly as an example of a more positive approach to co-shaping markets and sectors as they make important structural changes. Participants agreed this approach should be as important for the big challenges in other domains, for example, the need to design new systems of health and social care.

Later, at a lunchtime talk the Centre for Policy Development co-hosted with the City of Melbourne and the Monash Sustainable Development Institute, Mariana took her ideas to another sold out public audience of over 200 people. She focused especially on the interplay between mission-led innovation, inclusive growth and cities. Mariana’s keynote address was followed by a discussion with Sarah Pearson, Chief Innovation Officer in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and John Thwaites, Chair of the MSDI, moderated by Glyn Davis.

In the discussion, recurring themes about the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals as a set of big challenges increasingly common across many countries and the need for much bolder and more diverse collaboration between the public sector, businesses, innovators and entrepreneurs were drawn out and emphasised.

Friday 14 December

On Friday morning, Mariana met with a group of 50 social entrepreneurs, innovators and public servants connected to the Foundation for Young Australians. A lively and wide-ranging conversation covered the role of government and the public sector, as well as entrepreneurs and social innovators.

The power of artificial intelligence and “big data” was also explored in some questions that tested their impact on government policy making and the developing of innovation policy especially. Other themes from Mariana’s work, including the importance of public investment in many of the core technologies and platforms of the technology revolution, the difference between value creation and value extraction and the importance of co-creating responses to the big challenges implicit in the SDGs were the focus of more questions and debate.

Mariana reinforced the need for civil society and social innovators to be a “thorn in the side” of the larger systems of policy and public investment to make sure they took a large, positive and innovative frame of reference to the search for solutions to big societal challenges that invest in public value.

Following this breakfast gathering, Mariana met with the CEO of the CSIRO, Dr Larry Marshall, and exchanged ideas and insights about the fundamental importance of well-funded public research in fuelling a strong, innovative and competitive economy. CSIRO’s work in support of several major “missions” focused on big Australian social and environmental challenges was discussed, along with opportunities for concrete links between CSIRO and IIPP such as through MOIN.

In the final event of the week, Mariana address a packed business lunch of over 200 people hosted by the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia (CEDA).

After her speech, Mariana was joined for a panel discussion by Claire O’Neill, Shadow Minister for Justice and Financial Services, CPD Board member Sam Mostyn and CEDA CEO Melinda Cilento, followed by audience Q&A.

Familiar themes came up in the discussion around mission-driven innovation and the importance of the stories we tell ourselves (or don’t tell) about the value and significance of public investment and the public sector in innovation and sustainable growth. In addition, critical insights about the role of business and the idea of mutual obligation between government and business to focus investments on delivering public value and long-term, sustainable and inclusive growth.

Can you change a country in a week?

Is it possible to change the way a country thinks and acts in response to its big societal challenges and opportunities in just one week?

Probably not.

But if you engage the right mix of leaders, thinkers and practitioners across the policy and innovation communities, and you bring them a frame of thinking and a burden of evidence and changing practice that so clearly resonates with the direction and urgency of their own thinking, you can change the terms of the conversation decisively.

Panel discussion with Mariana Mazzucato by Claire O’Neill, Shadow Minister for Justice and Financial Services, CPD Board member Sam Mostyn and CEDA CEO Melinda Cilento.

Judging by the numbers of people involved in, and the quality of the response to, the different parts of Mariana’s visit, that’s exactly what has happened.

The test now is how Professor Mazzucato’s ideas and research can turn into some concrete projects involving government, business and other sectors, drawing on and in some cases supported directly by partnerships with IIPP, to put mission-led sustainable growth and innovation at the heart of the policy agenda in Australia.

Huge thanks to the Centre for Policy Development, supported by the University of Technology Sydney and the Monash Sustainable Development Institute, for this opportunity.

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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