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Transforming Germany: How Mission Agencies Can Pioneer Innovative Solutions for Grand Challenges

Germany, Europe and the world as a whole face enormous challenges. The well-being of current and future generations depends on our ability to meet them. The greatest such challenge is climate change, which respects neither national nor sectoral boundaries. If the global community does not succeed in swiftly transforming its way of life in virtually all areas, all life on the planet is at risk. Challenges of this nature cannot be met by conventional approaches to public policy. We need instead to fundamentally change the ways in which organizations and people across key sectors and policy areas think and act with regard to the challenges at hand. A fundamental transformation of the systems through which they operate is needed.   

Contact Persons

Foto Daniel Schraad-Tischler
Dr. Daniel Schraad-Tischler
Foto Jan C. Breitinger
Dr. Jan C. Breitinger
Senior Project Manager
Foto Daniel Posch
Daniel Posch
Project Manager


Mission orientation as transformative policy

The concept of mission orientation, which addresses the need for organizations and institutions to unite a broad range of stakeholders in targeting major societal challenges, has therefore attracted considerable attention among those in the policy and research communities. Nations as well as supranational entities on both sides of the equator have launched mission-oriented policy programs throughout the last decade. The European Green deal and the EU missions in the Horizon Europe research program constitute two of the most prominent examples of such programs at the European level.   

In Germany, too, a shift toward more strongly transformative policy that looks beyond incremental changes to the status quo is evident. For example, the current federal government’s coalition agreement envisages a further development of the mission-oriented approach as a part of the High-Tech Strategy. This “Future Strategy” hints at a more holistic understanding of change processes, going beyond a narrow focus on technology. In addition, the creation of a Federal Agency for Disruptive Innovation (SprinD) in 2019, the initiation of the Alliance for Transformation within the Federal Chancellery, and the efforts to establish a German Agency for Transfer and Innovation (DATI) also demonstrate a desire to set comprehensive and trend-setting change processes into motion.   

Structural barriers to implementing mission-oriented policies in Germany

However, the shift toward a more deliberately transformative policymaking style poses fundamental challenges to existing institutional arrangements and coordination mechanisms. In many cases, established institutional settings, organizational routines and administrative cultures do not live up to the demanding requirements associated with the emerging paradigm of mission orientation. Given this, Germany represents a vivid and compelling example, where effective transformative policymaking is undermined by several structural factors. First, the high degree of constitutionally enshrined departmental autonomy ("Ressortprinzip") and the resulting dominance of negative coordination significantly constrain cross-sectoral and cross-ministerial cooperation and coordination. Secondly, ministerial cultures, routines and legal provisions tend to inhibit experimental approaches and policy learning. And finally, the lack of appropriate structures and procedural mechanisms for effective participation of actors beyond the narrow confines of the public administration prevent broad mobilization and the development of shared responsibility for the transformation at hand with stakeholders.  

Against this background, the question arises under which conditions a reorientation toward transformative, mission-oriented policy and its concrete implementation in Germany can succeed. There are two basic approaches to better address the demanding governance requirements for transformative, mission-oriented polices: (1) the reform of existing institutional arrangements and organizational structures, and (2) the establishment of new organizations.  

“Mission possible”: How mission agencies are advancing transformative policy in Germany

This discussion paper contributes to the current search for appropriate approaches to transformative policies by focusing on the latter, namely by proposing an institutional paradigm shift: the creation of thematically specialized “agencies” with comprehensive governance responsibility for transformative missions that cross established policy fields. To overcome existing structural obstacles in the German federal political-administrative system, the paper discusses the creation of thematically specialized mission agencies acting independently within the scope of its competencies, taking a leading role in the design and governance of selected missions and located within the area of responsibility of the Federal Chancellery. The proposed institutional solution should, however, be understood as a thought experiment, since both conceptual development and insights derived from empirical research are currently at an early stage.   

We propose that this institutionalized change agent act independently within the Federal Chancellery as a central “mission owner” with responsibility for a specific mission. By doing so, we aim to highlight the mission’s political priority and protect associated activities from inter-ministerial rivalries. To ensure the agency’s success, it must have adequate budgetary resources and sufficient scope for independent action within the core mission areas.

The strength of such mission agencies would come from a combination of technical expertise, procedural competence, a robust network, a clear political mandate and commitment to the mission goal. The role of the mission agencies clearly goes beyond that of coordinator. An important element of ensuring a political binding effect would involve releasing an annual progress report, a task that should lay with the cabinet.   

Over the course of the mission cycle, the mission agencies would take on a number of different tasks and functions. To carry out these tasks the mission agencies will utilize thematically cross-cutting and methodologically specialized organizational units that have a diverse staff made up of individuals from government administration, research, business and civil society sectors.  

How the proposed governance model could improve upon the status quo, how missions – together with institutional change agents – can be grounded in the democratic decision-making process as well as answers to many more open questions will be elaborated in detail in the study below.