Skip to content

How to Accelerate Missions – Three Learnings from a Case Perspective

23. May 2024

At DDC – Danish Design Center, we’re committed to addressing complex societal challenges by leveraging mission-oriented innovation through a design lens. As part of our commitment, we assist private and public organizations in adopting a similar approach

Long reads

The following article sheds light on some of the experiences, tools, and models we have deployed in our mission projects. It takes its point of departure from a recent collaboration with ATV, the Danish Academy of Technical Sciences. 

In this article, you will first get a short introduction to mission-oriented innovation, how we adopt it in DDC, and the methodological framework we have used to underpin the ATV collaboration. 

In the second part of the article, you are introduced to ATV’s aspiration to work mission-oriented and how we helped design so-called “mission labs” – a format ATV has used to engage the science and engineering ecosystem to most effectively accelerate a sustainable transition towards a fossil-free, biobased, and digital future. 

The ATV case outlines three learnings that we observed during the project and that we believe will serve as informative insights for people interested in undertaking similar endeavors:

  1. ATV as a Transition Broker: The importance of intermediary capacity 
  2. ATV as a Testing Ground: The value of an experimental approach
  3. ATV as an Agile Facilitator: The significance of a steering committee

What do we mean by missions?

In brief, a mission-oriented approach addresses significant societal challenges (say, climate change, resource scarcity, or marine pollution) and guides public and private sector efforts. This article will skip the more in-depth definition of the mission-oriented innovation approach as we cover it in our Mission Playbook Beta and Mission Assessment Survey.

However, it is worth noting that when Mariana Mazzucato initially framed the approach, she solely focused on the role of policy innovation and the capacity of governments to ‘shape markets’ rather than ‘fix markets,’ meaning that governments should play a proactive and strategic role in setting ambitious goals, or “missions,” for innovation. Fortunately, Mazzucato’s approach has progressed, now serving as the exemplary model for addressing significant societal challenges and wicked problems across public, private, and civic sectors.

Examples of missions

One of the most iconic examples of a mission is likely The Apollo Program of 1961. However, numerous other noteworthy examples exist (e.g., vaccines, the internet, The Human Genome Project, and the Large Hadron Collider). The following table is a simplified outline of different types of missions that demonstrate various ways missions are designed and governed. It’s important to remember that missions never exist independently but always operate across multiple stakeholders.


Type of organization Who Grand Challenge Mission
Transnational organizations The EU Commis-


Adaption to Climate change Support at least 150 European regions and communities to become climate resilient by 2030
Cancer Improve the lives of more than 3 million people by 2030 through prevention, cure & solutions to live longer and better.
Restore our ocean and waters by 2030 Help achieve the marine and freshwater targets of the European Green Deal
100 Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities by 2030 Ensure that cities act as experimentation and innovation hubs to enable all European cities.
A Soil Deal for Europe 100 living labs and lighthouses to lead the transition towards healthy soils by 2030
Private organization Ørsted We need to take real action to maintain a habitable planet To develop green, independent, and economically viable energy systems
CORT (Aalborg Portland) CO2-emissions from
manufacturing cement 
Launching a pilot project to develop, test, and scale up CO2 capture at a cement factory
Scientific organization Aalborg University Unsustainable fuel for the transportation sector Sustainable Fuels, Chemicals And PTX
Rising discontent among youth Improve Danish children’s and young people’s well-being
Governmental Innovation Foundation Denmark CO2 is a significant greenhouse gas INNO-CCUS: Transforming CO2 from a problem into a resource through capturing, storing, and utilising 
Insufficient sustainable food production  AgriFoodTure – Climate and environmentally-friendly agriculture and food production
Current plastic and textiles are too complex to recycle CE-PT- Circular economy with a focus on plastics and textiles
Scaling up infrastructure for PtX + Developing commercially feasible solutions for PtX MissionGreenFuels – Green fuels for transport and industry

The article is part of our Mission Playbook Vol. 2. You can explore more articles here.

From a funnel to a megaphone approach

A mission-oriented innovation approach differs from a traditional innovation approach in several important ways. We illustrate this working logic using a model developed by the ALT/Now group (2019) that juxtaposes two innovation logics. On the left side, it portrays the traditional ‘funnel’ approach to innovation, while on the right, representing the mission-oriented stance, it depicts a ‘megaphone’ approach to innovation.

The funnel logic suggests a dedicated commitment to addressing a particular challenge by systematically breaking it into smaller, manageable components. That requires gathering various ideas and thoroughly assessing their feasibility. Picture a physical funnel wherein only the most promising ideas persist while others are sifted out for further refinement and conceptualization.

A megaphone logic implies a reversed approach where you are committed to solving a grand challenge by addressing the complexity from a systemic perspective. In contrast to prioritizing the most promising and scalable idea, this approach involves overseeing a portfolio of ideas that address a grand challenge from diverse perspectives. The key is to foster learning across these projects, ensuring a holistic exploration of the challenge. We have summarized the two forms of logic in the following table:

The role of design in mission programs

Missions provide better answers to complex and often systemic challenges; design is a perfect approach for tackling those problems. With both missions and design, the relationship between a problem and solution is that we see the shape of where we are going without knowing exactly how to get there. The thinking, methods, tools, and design skills allow us to make missions work.

Design-driven methods allow us to anticipate something radically different from the extrapolation of the status quo and challenge our assumptions, encourage empathy, and create the space to experiment. They also allow us to ‘rehearse the preferred future’ through prototypes. Designers can apply a holistic perspective and co-create new solutions across disciplines and sectors with users. Their visual skills help them make the complex tangible and easy to understand.

Missions can, therefore, be seen as a design exercise. They won’t emerge by themselves – we need to craft them.

Guiding a mission project: The Three Horizons framework

Before delving into the ATV case, we must introduce the Three Horizons Model, developed by Bill Sharpe (2013), which we used to guide the ATV collaboration. We utilize this model because it effectively considers the three crucial elements essential for a mission to make a meaningful impact:

It sets direction  It mobilizes an ecosystem It draws attention to capacity-building

And lastly, in any given project, it is helpful to accompany a complex process visually.

Although not intended to illustrate mission-led projects, the Three Horizons Model offers a relatively simple way to deal with complexity. The framework allows us to work with what we know while engaging creatively with what we do not know.

The model consists of two axes (X = prevalence, Y = time) and three horizontal lines (H1, H2, H3):

  • The H1-line indicates the most prevalent future
  • The H3-line indicates a viable world
  • The H2-line indicates the transition activities needed to move from H1 to H3.

The model frames a dialogue about how to move from the status quo (first horizon) to the emergence of a viable world (third horizon). A central idea of the model is that it works with three-time horizons that exist simultaneously, although with varying prevalence.

The Three Horizon Framework can be tricky at first glance, but when you work with it, the model becomes simple. Here’s an attempt to exemplify the model using the European Green Deal Policy Package:

In 2020, the EU initiated the European Green Deal, intending to achieve climate neutrality by 2050.

H3: Aligned with the Three Horizons Framework, the European Green Deal serves as H3 (viable world), envisioning a sustainable energy future by transforming energy practices and promoting circularity, electrification, and cleaner fuels.

H1: Despite aspirations for 2050, the current prevalent energy system (H1) in the EU heavily relies on oil, gas, and coal, indicating a substantial gap in reaching the set goal.

H2: Attaining net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 requires more than a goal; it demands a comprehensive transition phase. This process involves developing new solutions, mobilizing critical actors in the ecosystem, and employing effective policy tools tailored to the evolving maturity levels from H1 to H3.

The significance of H2 lies in two dimensions: 1) It stresses the importance of not only developing solutions but also dismantling existing practices. According to H2, policy tools must align with the maturity level of H3 and prevent the marginalization of fossil-fuel-dependent nations during the shift to renewable energy (for example, the EU has now opened up the possibility of using fossil CO2 sources to create output products via CCU. This output will be certified as “green” until 2036 for the energy sector and up to 2042 for the industry. That is a way to establish incentive structures for capturing CO2 and establishing the infrastructure.). In other words, to move from H1 to H3, we must develop the proper transition pathways that are technically and economically feasible and acceptable from a social and environmental viewpoint.

2) H2 also highlights the risks of H1 (the dominant future) ‘capturing’ H2 by including new technologies while sustaining the status quo. It is easy to imagine a future where we expand renewable energy sources while sustaining fossil fuels, thus not radically transforming into a viable energy future (H3). We call this capture H2 – a future that hasn’t radically transformed into the intended H3. It stresses the need to holistically harness energy systems alongside new behavioral, economic, and social measures, constituting H1 as the least viable way. This, we call H2+.

We work with the Three Horizons Framework in a mission context because it systematically and structurally incorporates the three crucial elements needed to achieve a mission: It sets direction, mobilizes an ecosystem, and draws attention to capacity building.

Case: ATV — A guide to a resilient Denmark

The following ATV case will outline three learnings that we observed during the project and that we believe will serve as informative insights for people interested in undertaking similar endeavors:

  1. ATV as a Transition Broker: The importance of intermediary capacity 
  2. ATV as a Testing Ground: The significance of an action-oriented approach
  3. ATV as an Agile Facilitator: The importance of a steering committee.

Why does ATV want to work with missions?

ATV — the Danish Academy of Technical Sciences, is a member-based, independent think tank that works to improve the framework for science and technology research and application in Denmark. As a member-driven think tank with 800 fellows in the form of technology leaders from across universities, industry, and the public sector, ATV is uniquely positioned to qualify, disseminate, and implement technical conclusions and recommendations.

ATV is implementing twelve mission labs over the next five years. The labs aim to catalyze the sustainable transition towards a fossil-free, bio-based, and digitally supported future. The mission labs are not independent, granular missions but act as a time-bound format complementing existing missions and similar initiatives involving and/or requiring numerous actors and interventions.

ATV launched its first mission lab on CCUS (Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage), an essential and politically apt strategy in Denmark’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent in 2030 and 110 percent by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. 

The mission lab investigated the connections and dependencies and what sustainable and environmentally friendly use of CCUS requires with specific sensitivity to the complementary value and unique contribution ATV could offer to the existing mission.  

Due to its role and position in the technical/scientific landscape, ATV was well-positioned to mobilize representatives from the entire ecosystem, including universities, industries, analytical institutes, and governmental bodies.

Three learnings from the project

1) ATV as a Transition Broker: The importance of intermediary capacity 

The mission labs underscored ATV’s pivotal role as an intermediary organization, enabling it to invite key stakeholders from diverse sectors. ATV created a neutral environment, facilitating participants to openly exchange ideas, express frustrations, and share perspectives without apprehension of consequences. This setting was based on the Chatham House Rule, which helped create a trusting and open environment. 

ATV’s intermediary role can be seen in the light of the term transition broker, a term coined by Jacqueline Cramer, who is an experienced mission leader and member of the Amsterdam Economic Board with a lot of circular economy initiatives under her belt:

I have seen how intermediary persons or organizations operating from an intermediary position — the transition brokers — can orchestrate the change process. Once they get the mandate to fulfill this servant leadership role, the preconditions for successful implementation can be organized more easily” 

Jacqueline Cramer stresses how transition brokers play a crucial role in accelerating complex change processes by navigating the different perspectives of entrepreneurs, government, and society. In accordance with Cramer, ATV recognizes the significance of network governance, viewing it as a valuable investment rather than a mere necessary cost. ATV mobilizes key stakeholders in light of the bigger mission and invites people to share knowledge and experiences to accelerate and better coordinate existing initiatives and identify knowledge gaps hindering progress.

Seven skills for the transition broker, according to Jacqueline Cramer
1. To excite and inspire others to cooperate 2. To be entrepreneurial, dare to leave your comfort zone, persevere, be impatient, and be willing to follow up with contacts 3. To get the idea of circular economy accepted in a variety of businesses and organizations, translate the desired actions into the language of other organizations and not appear threatening 4. To think and act from a systems perspective but at the same time to be pragmatic


5. To have a vast knowledge base in the subject matter, the business environment, and political culture 6. To act in the collective interest and be professional enough to stand above the parties 7. To be able to open doors at all policy levels to remove barriers that need to be solved by governments

At DDC, we acknowledge the significance of the term transition broker and the corresponding skills articulated by Jacqueline Cramer when embarking on a mission — regardless of whether you represent a public, civic, or private entity. Essentially, the role of a transition broker is to orchestrate a coalition of the willing, steering away from dependence on centralized, top-down planning. This coalition comprises diverse stakeholders who willingly collaborate, understanding that the mission’s success is a foundation for their success.

2) ATV as a Testing Ground: The importance of an experimental approach

The mission lab was design-driven in that we prioritized an experimental approach favoring agency and practical engagement. This approach is beneficial when the end goal is undefined and the pathways toward it are emergent and contingent.

Using the Three Horizon Framework as a guiding framework, the first workshop of the Mission Lab (out of four in addition to a scoping workshop) explored the most viable future using CCUS to achieve 110 percent emission reduction. The visions acted as probes to discuss, hypothesize, and assess the viability of reaching the 110 percent target using CCUS as sustainable and environmentally friendly as possible.

We developed material that contributed to an experimental approach to innovation. The conversations among the different CCUS stakeholders resulted in fruitful discussions and relevant insights (targeting ATV’s unique complementary value) that ATV could present in their final report synthesizing the Mission Lab.

For example, in one of the workshops, we developed realistic 2050 scenarios with related budgets (see images below) that participants were asked to ‘qualify’ given the constraints in the scenario. Each scenario was developed using six fixed parameters, e.g., ‘Energy needs for the overall solution,’ ‘Global scalability, ‘ and ‘Environmental effects.’ 

The different scenarios not only contributed to displaying different ways to reach the 2050 goal. They also allowed us to compare and clarify what choices, mutual dependencies, trade-offs, dilemmas, and time horizons each scenario would bring forth.

The four workshops are summarized in the following table:



Approach Description Question Result
H-3 Set direction Collectively imagining a future state where Denmark successfully achieves its 110% reduction target using CCUS in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way. Desirability:
How do we make sure all stakeholders willingly embrace this vision?
Inspiring descriptions prompting key questions regarding the most desirable road to reach the 110 percent reduction target (across all stakeholder groups).
H-2 Build capacity Discussing and examining viable tactics to realize visions using state-of-the-art scientific research through presentations.  Viability:
How do we assess the most suitable tactics for realizing our vision (according to x number of parameters)?
Updated 2050 visions and raised awareness about lacking knowledge/lacking stakeholders in the mission lab. 
H-1 Backcasting to seek possible routes to bridge the gap between the current state and future vision (rather than depending on fixed pathways of change (forecasting)). Feasibility

How do we evaluate what technical/

political/environmental/social dimensions are feasible in accordance with our preferred vision?

A common framework for the optimal utilization of CCUS in relation to the 110 percent reduction target, including 1) where we are heading, 2) the best pathways to get there.
Mobilize ecosystem Building and maintaining relationships throughout the mission lab (and hopefully after).  Contextuality: 

How can our shared capabilities collectively best enable the 2050 goal using CCUS?

Do the actors understand the mission’s success as a premise for their success?

New connections that broaden stakeholders’ knowledge and foster strategic opportunities.

3) ATV as an Agile Facilitator: The importance of a steering committee

Over the course of the mission lab, a lot happened in the actual CCUS ‘landscape’. It meant that ATV had to rethink who to invite and what focus to pay attention to in the particular workshop. It required ATV to be “agile”, or in other words, to work iteratively and to rely on constant feedback from the CCUS environment.

In that regard, ATV relied heavily on a willing and competent steering committee consisting of centrally placed capacities representing different angles and parts of the ecosystem. The steering committee was integral to the mission lab design and helped the project leader forge the workshops. 

The committee was responsible for shaping the proper thematic focus areas and assessing the effectiveness of the learnings from the mission lab. The committee generally contributed to a dynamic and responsive approach to the identified challenges and delivering tangible outcomes.

Some of the questions that helped us improve the project were: 

  • Have the right stakeholders been mobilized? And do the stakeholders cover the entire ecosystem?
  • Do the actors engage in the mission lab, and on what level?
  • Do the actors understand the mission’s success as a premise for their success?
  • How do we capture all learnings during the mission lab? 
  • How do we build institutional knowledge and enable cross-mission knowledge sharing?
  • Are we contributing with insights that our role rightfully can provide? 
  • Are we serving our role in the entire ecosystem?

Change of theory

In summary

The mission-oriented approach to innovation has helped ATV identify its unique complementary value to the existing national CCUS agenda while aligning important stakeholders in the ecosystem. Although many of the stakeholders have had plenty of previous encounters with each other, ATV provided the context for which the stakeholders could communicate freely, share perspectives and experiment together. 

ATV will develop a comprehensive guide based on the mission lab, incorporating conclusions, recommendations, and areas that need further clarification, targeting decision-makers and stakeholders within the Danish CCUS ecosystem and related sectors. The guide will include terminology clarification, a common narrative framework outlining a scenario for 2050 and the pathways to achieve it, detailing significant milestones for 2030 and 2040 across three horizons (what to do less of, what to develop, and what to accelerate in terms of achieving the 2050 goal).

The diagram below outlines the theory of change guiding the entire project. It depicts the fundamental assumptions shaping the project and aims to dissect it into a sequence of activities, effects, and impacts.

Andreas Korntved Mortensen

Eco Designer

Phone +45 3151 5284
Social LinkedIn

Do you have questions about the case?

Related articles, tools, cases, and projects:

Can’t get enough of design and innovation? We hear you. And we have you covered.

Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest from our world delivered straight to your inbox.

Sign up for the ddc newsletter


Bryghuspladsen 8
BLOX, 2. floor
1473 Copenhagen
CVR 3699 4126


Dyrehavevej 116
Design School Kolding
6000 Kolding
CVR 3699 4126

Unless otherwise stated, all content on this website is presented under the Creative Commons Attribution License.