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Motoring towards missions in Emilia-Romagna

Photo by Lubo Minar on Unsplash

By David Frayman and Martha McPherson

Ferrari. Lamborghini. Maserati. Think of Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region and you soon think of the combustion engine. These brands are the global face of a dense network of manufacturing firms operating across diverse sectors, often known as the ‘Third Italy’ model.

But the economic successes of the 20th century have left a mixed legacy. Emilia-Romagna’s place as a hub for logistics and production has resulted in unhealthy levels of air pollution, and it has suffered heavily from Italy’s economic stagnation in the 21st century. The big question facing the region is familiar: how best to transition to an environmentally sustainable society at the same time as generating decent work, economic security and top class public services?

Unfortunately, these two things will not spontaneously emerge. The future of work is currently being shaped by digital innovations that are creating a casualised gig economy featuring big winners and many losers. The models of the welfare state and public service delivery which were robust in the past have adjusted very slowly to changes in the nature of work and social needs. We cannot therefore separate the project of a Just Transition from the structural economic issues which have become even more obvious during the Covid-19 pandemic.

This argument is at the centre of the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose’s (IIPP) work with the European Institute of Technology’s Climate-KIC and ART-ER, Emilia Romagna’s sustainable growth and innovation consortium. The region has been exploring the potential for creating policy missions for a regional Just Transition through EIT Climate-KIC’s ‘Deep Demonstrations’ programme. This experimental relationship builds on a partnership between IIPP and EIT Climate-KIC in the New Economic Paradigms project, through which the institute supported Deep Demonstration teams to challenge existing economic innovation paradigms. Just Transition was one of the key prongs of this work.

A hypothetical mission for Emilia-Romagna

Mission-oriented approaches to innovation policy and industrial strategy are useful tools for shaping complex policy outcomes for a number of reasons: they determine a clear direction for coordinating action in advance, they foster and incentivise stakeholder participation, and they operate from a systemic perspective that emphasises spillovers and feedback effects.

To start off thinking about a mission-oriented policy, we took a hypothetical modelling approach, overviewed in the ‘mission roadmap’ below. Developing a fully fledged mission is a deep dive process which can take up to six months or more to complete; our aim with this project was to showcase a rough-and-ready idea of what a mission could look like in practice.

Within the challenge of the Just Transition, citizen engagement had already identified mobility as the priority area for a mission, conceived broadly in terms of access to services, economic opportunities and activities people value. In other words: the ability to take full part in the region’s society. The problem of mobility is especially acute regarding the connections from peripheral communities, with travel relying heavily on the automobile. In this light, mobility was defined with three characteristics: it has to be inclusive, sustainable and deliverable by 2030.

Once defined, we developed the mission through formulating in detail one hypothetical mission project of creating an integrated and electrified transport system. Mission projects should aim at developing cross-sectoral innovations that use and develop the capabilities of individual organisations. This acts not only to meet technical project needs, but to foster a broadening and deepening of economic opportunities for citizens, especially creating decent jobs for the future. It is at the level of mission projects that the connection between green transition, industrial policy and social welfare becomes tangible.

For Emilia-Romagna, the scope for ambitious techno-economic solutions to our mission project is large. The region is a fertile place for experimentation with innovation and upscaling due to its world-leading and interlinked manufacturing ecosystems. Electrification can become a technological direction for stimulating investment and skills development at the same time as the transformation of the transport system can open up access to services and jobs for citizens, especially in peripheral communities where the choice of mobility is limited.

What happens next?

In reality, developing missions is more difficult than indicated here. Local capacity, diverse needs and the participation of many stakeholders make it a complex process with unpredictable obstacles. But we hope this has given an impression of the potential for bold thinking that combines a push for green transition with promoting economic inclusion and new avenues for investment. We believe this is the way forward for addressing the environmental and economic challenges we face today.

Missions are ultimately about learning and uncovering opportunities that were unknown in advance. Through this, perhaps the global face of Emilia-Romagna’s economy will one day no longer be the combustion engine, but sustainable mobility.

For more on the mission-oriented approach and on thinking about the Just Transition, please get in touch with Martha McPherson on m.mcpherson@ucl.ac.uk, and David Frayman on d.frayman@ucl.ac.uk




The official blog of the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose | Rethinking how public value is created, nurtured and evaluated | Director @MazzucatoM | https://www.ucl.ac.uk/bartlett/public-purpose/

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

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