IIPP Student Ideas
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IIPP Student Ideas

Shaping a mission-oriented ecosystem in Denmark

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

By Rodrigo Echecopar

This blog is a contribution from one of IIPP’s Master of Public Administration (MPA) students. To find out more about the course, click here.

I n the last decade many policymakers have recognised the limits of the traditional neoclassical economic policies, and opened up to new alternatives. One example of this is the Danish Government’s decision to take bold climate action by establishing ‘green missions’ as their innovation policy drivers. However, defining these missions is just the first step.

Successful mission-oriented economic policies require more than just setting directions. For missions to be transformative, the policy must develop proper public organisations, dynamic evaluation methods, and new types of public-private partnerships. In other words, the real power of mission-oriented policies comes from shaping a vibrant mission-oriented economic ecosystem, where direction is just one ingredient.

But how is a mission-oriented ecosystem shaped and what other critical ingredients should we take into account? This is the task that the Danish Design Center (DDC) is embarking on. With over 40 years of experience using design to face original challenges and strategically positioned at the intersection of the Danish public institutions and private sector, it is in a privileged position to tackle this issue. Through a partnership with the Danish Innovation Fund and the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose (IIPP) at UCL, the DDC started looking at how to shape a mission-oriented ecosystem that brings real change for Denmark.

The Challenge

In 2020 the Danish Government announced that four climate missions would drive its innovation strategy: exploring carbon capture technology, developing green fuels for transport and industry, securing sustainable food production, and improving plastic waste recycling and reduction. The purpose was to encourage bottom-up innovation and promote knowledge-sharing that would lead to systemic change. But how does an ecosystem shaped to drive competition evolve into an ecosystem focused on achieving democratically determined aims?

Mission-oriented policy seeks to achieve societal goals by promoting innovation and economic change. The missions stated above can act as a compass for public agencies to know in which direction to move. However, as the economist and innovation expert Bengt-Åke Lundvall puts it, “learning and innovation is best understood as the outcome of interaction”. This means that the true potential for innovation is unleashed when a common direction (the mission) pushes the ecosystem towards new types of interactions between firms and other stakeholders. In that sense, a mission-oriented ecosystem should promote interactions between firms where knowledge is shared, existing routines are challenged, and public value is prioritised.

How does that differ from the traditional market-driven ecosystem? Market-driven ecosystems establish narrow roles for the actors, based on the neoclassical economic framework that optimum equilibrium is reached by the decentralised decisions of rational individuals. For example, the firm’s social responsibility is to maximise profits by competing and obtain the largest market share. Public agencies can procure and invest, but their main focus is regulating the limits of private competition. And finally, citizens are reduced to a consumer role, seeking to increase their benefits at the lowest possible cost. The optimal outcome arises from each actor playing a self-interested and individual role in the market.

However, once we recognise that interactions and not individuality are at the root of innovation, we can start moving from a market-driven framework focused on individual roles to a mission-oriented ecosystem where relationships and cooperation between actors are the key for progress.

Exploring a New Framework

A mission-oriented ecosystem must start by recognising a more complex process. For example, interactions between firms, including product creation and networking, increase innovation. Furthermore, the narrow role of Government comes from a misconception of public value. If we acknowledge that public institutions also generate public value, we open the door towards a Government that co-designs with citizens and explores new public-private partnerships. Finally, people aren’t just consumers in static economic equilibriums; they are citizens, and the ultimate judges of public value, in a dynamic economic production and consumption system shaped by technological, economic, and cultural settings.

These insights provide a general idea of how a different economic ecosystem could work, but bringing these views into real life isn’t easy. Especially when it requires looking for new types of interactions and expecting non-deterministic answers. And that’s where the power of design can be of service.

Design thinking and strategic design have become valuable means for enhancing creativity, imagination, and innovation. Some go even further and describe it as a mindset and not just a process. Exploring subjects from this mindset, using the design funnel to zoom in and out, or engaging with alternative types of research can show us opportunities a market-driven order might miss. It can discover systemic leverage points that require bringing together sectors we hadn’t conceived of mixing or developing design methods to include citizens in public-private value creation processes.

The DDC is in an exciting position to contribute to the Danish ecosystem. As one of the leading design labs in the country, it is also at the forefront of the green transition discussion and understands the local environment of firms and public agencies. It has already kicked off by bringing together different digital sectors to think about public value and co-create a Digital Ethics Compass. However, its following tests will require a broader intervention of the ecosystem and a doubling down on circular economy and other climate-oriented challenges.

Design for a new economic framework

Shifting our economic understanding from a neoclassical perspective towards one that includes insights from evolutionary and complexity economics requires us to conceive a different production ecosystem as well. And a new ecosystem won’t be designed in a lab or a university office but by exploring real-life challenges with real-world organisations.

Can a forward-thinking design lab help build this new ecosystem? It’s too early to say, but somebody has to start trying, and design has proven to be a great creator in the past. Researching case studies, bringing together diverse stakeholders, and examining alternative avenues may lead us to a novel set of ecosystemic interactions. One thing’s for sure: we won’t discover anything unless we start exploring.




The IIPP Student Ideas publication showcases the views and opinions of our Master of Public Administration student cohort on all things innovation, public policy and public value.

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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

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