About this project
Governments spend billions to foster innovation, but the economic, environmental and social return on this investment is not always evident. Canada’s innovation policy landscape remains fragmented, and Canada lags on key indicators of innovation, including business R&D, technology adoption, and new product and service development.
The COVID-19 pandemic has precipitated an economic crisis that demands an ambitious and purposeful policy response. It has also demonstrated the potential of innovation to tackle massive challenges—like the development and roll-out of vaccines in less than a year. As Canada seeks to build a more resilient economy, new policies are needed to clear a path to global scale for Canadian innovation, and to focus innovation where we need it most.
Orienting innovation policy around “missions” or a “moonshot”—well-defined objectives related to a social challenge, with a set timeframe—could help to achieve this aim by leveraging innovation as a vehicle for developing and commercializing products, services, and processes that drive economic growth and productivity, while at the same time generating better outcomes for people and the environment.
A note about the “moonshot” terminology: While “mission-oriented innovation policy” is the established terminology, the term “missions” holds deep historical, military, and colonial roots. As part of the process of reconciliation, it is incumbent on everyone to continue to be aware of the impact that our language may have on groups and communities that are still impacted by the discriminatory policies of the past and to take steps to decolonize our work now. Thus, this report will instead use “moonshots” in its place – drawing on the original moonshot – the Apollo program.
Moonshot innovation policy is not a new idea: The quintessential example, referenced in the title of University College London (UCL) economist Mariana Mazzucato’s latest book, dates back to the 1950s, with the Apollo program’s “moonshot” to land humans on the moon and return them safely to Earth. This original moonshot initiative led to numerous ancillary technological advancements used in applications ranging from portable computers to solar panels, cordless drills, and memory foam. More recent examples of moonshots include developing robotic technology for elder care in Japan, protecting against flooding and sea-level rise in the Netherlands, and the European Union’s commitment to identifying specific missions in five challenge areas related to cancer, climate change adaptation, ocean protection, net zero cities, and soil and food health.
While we can learn from these and other examples, this paper puts forth recommendations on how to successfully implement moonshot innovation policy in Canada. This report will explore key design considerations related to how moonshots are selected and implemented, and the policy changes, governance models and public-private partnerships that might be required to help innovative solutions move from idea to market.