What EU innovation policy can learn from professional cycling

(EurActiv, 24 Apr 2019) Mission-oriented innovation is potentially significant in tackling big societal challenges such as climate change. When establishing those missions, the EU could take a few lessons from Britain’s most successful cycling team, writes Simon Skillings.

Simon Skillings is senior associate at E3G, an independent think-tank operating to accelerate the global transition to a low carbon economy.

Ten years ago, in 2009, David Brailsford, the then performance director for the Great Britain cycling team, established a road cycling team, Team Sky. When the team launched in January 2010, Brailsford announced they would win the Tour de France within five years.

At the time, this seemed an incredible claim. No British cyclist, let alone British cycling team, had come close to winning this event in over one hundred years of history. And yet he felt confident in setting this ambitious goal.

The ability to set ambitious goals will soon be a challenge facing EU policy makers. The new ‘Horizon Europe’ framework, which is the EU research and innovation programme that will succeed the current Horizon 2020 programme, includes an intriguing new dimension. For the first time, it will establish ‘missions’ to help align and inspire researchers, innovators and the general public alike.

Mission-oriented innovation is an approach to policy-making which involves setting defined goals, with specific targets and working to achieve them in a set time. Whilst ‘mission areas’ have already been agreed, the specific missions that lie within these areas have yet to be defined.

There are two mission areas that relate to energy and climate change: ‘Adaptation to Climate Change, including Societal Transformation’ and ‘Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities’. The challenge for policy makers is to balance the need to set specific missions that are sufficiently aspirational without creating a ‘hostage to fortune’ that has little chance of success.

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EurActiv, 25 Apr 2019: What EU innovation policy can learn from professional cycling