On a mission: helping Camden build back better
How can we harness the public sector’s entrepreneurial potential to tackle inequality in UCL’s home borough?
By this time, world leaders understood the pandemic would have long-term implications and began to develop the narrative of Build Back Better. The phrase, coined in the UN to describe disaster recovery, was popularised by Joe Biden’s presidential election campaign yet quickly captured the public policy imagination the world over – a vision for a healthier, more resilient, equitable and socially just post-pandemic world.
In Camden, the Build Back Better slogan was to inform pioneering policy experimentation. Mazzucato and Gould realised they had an obligation to give concrete definition to the policy mantra and to act on it. The question was how, and with what means. In consultation with their teams, Gould and Mazzucato decided it represented an opportunity to address the borough’s deep-seated inequalities, through what Mazzucato calls mission-oriented innovation. “This was a model that Georgia understood, and it really resonated with her,” she says.
Missions are the central idea of the IIPP’s most recent work. The huge challenges facing us today, from growing inequality to the coronavirus pandemic, to climate breakdown, can only be resolved through concerted government action across all scales, from the global to the local. This means increasing the core capabilities of the state – national, supranational and local – to intervene in the economy and redesign public policy around ambitious yet achievable missions with clear public purpose. Mazzucato’s project is to renew the state ambition of the moonshot era but for earthbound problems; to learn the lessons of the successful Apollo mission of 1969 for contemporary challenges. And what better place to apply these lessons than in the IIPP’s own backyard, in Camden?
All these various stakeholders met for the first time at the end of September 2020. Their mission was to focus less on specific sectors and more on cross-cutting problems that matter to all. Mission thinking does not specify how to achieve success, just the direction to take. While technological missions, such as Mazzucato’s example of GPS, are often created by government agencies, social missions rely on the widest possible number of stakeholders to define and implement. Missions are a collective art, not a scientific formula. They must be big enough to inspire the public and attract buy-in across all sectors yet specific enough to involve industry and achieve quantifiable success.
Following this mission thinking process, the Camden Renewal Commission has co-designed four locally embedded multi-sectoral missions, with clear and ambitious yet achievable goals:
1. By 2030, those holding positions of power in Camden will be as diverse as our community – and the next generation will be ready to follow.
2. By 2025, every young person will have access to economic opportunity enabling safety and security.
3. By 2030, everyone will eat well every day with nutritious, affordable, sustainable food.
4. By 2030, Camden’s estates and streets will be creative and sustainable.
It is now in the hands of Camden Council to take the lead on delivering these missions across public services and through partnerships with organisations across the borough. To incentivise popular participation, residents and community groups can apply via Camden Giving to receive up to £1500 to deliver ideas that contribute to achieving Camden’s four missions. Missions are there for the making, just as Camden’s future is there for the shaping.