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Mission-Oriented Innovation at Institutes of Science and Technology : Interview with Maria Angélica Jung Marques

WTT’s Science, Technology and Innovation Manager, Maria Angélica Jung Marques comments in an interview on WTT’s work in collaboration with science and technology institutes to adopt the mission-oriented innovation approach and the challenges associated with implementing this perspective in the day-to-day running of an STI. Highlighting the importance of a change of mindset and the inclusion of different actors in the process, Marques explains how this approach can catalyze significant impacts both on the institution and the territory in which it operates, as well as being a hook for adopting a broader, more collaborative vision to tackle complex socio-economic challenges.


What does that WTT is initiating together with Science and Technology Institutes consist of?

This work consists of supporting and building capacities at Science and Technology Institutes to work with the mission-oriented innovation approach. It’s a job of developing capacities to make a Science and Technology Institute a proactive agent in the development of mission-oriented solutions and innovations. The institute then begins to act with a different outlook, with a new perspective. There are different types of institutes: there are the public ones, which are maintained by the state – and there are also the private ones, which, in turn, have their own peculiarities in relation to their sponsors. The sponsor is usually a company that defines the demands of the STI – this is normal. In these cases, much of what these STIs end up producing and generating is done primarily according to the demands of the sponsor. Looking at the territory where the STI is based and from which it could meet demands ends up taking a back seat. They are therefore interesting cases to work on using the mission-oriented innovation approach.


And what can the Mission-Oriented Innovation approach bring to the change of a Science and Technology Institute?

Since we’re looking at the impact on society or the territory where the institute operates or has influence, it’s not enough to just work on an internal approach. The mission-oriented innovation approach allows us to discover, identify and work collaboratively with other agents in the territory to build solutions that affect communities. I’d say it’s a vision for an STI. The mission-oriented innovation approach will bring tools and instruments so that there is a strategy thought out from the outside to the inside of the STI, and not just the other way around.

WTT visits the Vale Technology Institute


What are the challenges of putting this into practice?

One of the challenges is organizational culture. When we talk about culture, we’re talking about practices. Culture is nothing more than what you do on a daily basis, and that’s why organizational cultures are very strong, very complex. The big challenge is to work internally so that an organization understands what practices it has to adopt, what it has to start doing – or stop doing – in order to succeed in this new approach. Implementing a new approach doesn’t mean doing just that, but it does involve an organization changing some practices. The challenge is to identify which practices are necessary in order to effectively achieve change. Of course, along the way, the organization will have to discover the capabilities, learning needs, instruments, artifacts and processes that are necessary. That’s why it’s a change management process: because it’s a process of organizational change.


What is the difference between change management and theory of change?

A theory of change is an instrument used for strategic planning. In a theory of change, we put the mission, vision and premises of an organization and build a set of strategies to project the impacts we want with these strategies. A theory of change is an instrument, an artifact of strategic planning. Change management, on the other hand, has its origins in organizational management and changing an organization’s internal processes. It originates from the perspective of Organizational Psychology because it starts with the individual, but evolves into a more systemic view of the organization. Change management aims to establish a set of practices that will change the “how to” of the organization by looking at the people, the processes and the artifacts of the organization. Change management can also be aimed at implementing a strategy, and sometimes it can be a one-off thing. For example, introducing new software into an organization’s routine. This implies a change in practice and requires management, communication, leadership and listening to the parties.

How do you see this work with STIs within the work of WTT as a whole?

I believe that this work is also linked to changing the mindset of the institutions that work in innovation ecosystems, to helping them become proactive agents in the system. That’s why it’s important to have a differentiated process of collaboration, of including other players in the ecosystem, of co-producing innovation based on the major social and environmental challenges facing these institutes. It’s a job in which you have to look outside the institution and bring other players into the same process, into a process in which they also learn to work differently with this focus, with the missions approach – which is never exclusive. It doesn’t mean that these organizations are only going to do this, but that they can also do this and that this also brings benefits.

Why is this not an exclusive approach?

Because an institute continues its strategic developments – for example, developing specific knowledge and technologies that are important to the organization. And this requires basic research and applied research in the field. This kind of development won’t stop happening in an organization that adopts mission-oriented innovation. That’s the nature of institutions. But when we understand that an organization wants to have an impact on the socio-economic development of a region, it’s not enough just to produce a technology in-house. In that case, it’s necessary to listen to the territory, the community, learn to work with them and understand that, possibly, it’s not just this technology that they need.

I remember an example given in a Regional Territorial Development course I did for the International Labor Organization: development agents arrived in a territory and wanted to propose changes, propose the use of technologies in something very specific to improve the life of that community, but what that community really needed was, for example, a cemetery. They had another pain and a need to heal that pain. So there was no point in bringing a wonderful solution to that community if that solution wasn’t yet what they needed. Listening and paying attention to the real challenges are essential. And socio-environmental challenges are very complex and require a complex systems approach: if I touch one point, it will cause an interaction with dozens of other points. That’s why it’s necessary to work in an interactive and cyclical way.