Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to show that the wide acknowledgement of the association between innovation and economic and social development and of the importance of innovation policies has formed a kind of "misty consensus" hardly contested in Brazil. However, the innovation policies adopted in the country lack an institutional framework to support their implementation, marking what is called in this paper a "messy dissensus". Design/methodology/approach: It is argued that the reasons why the science, technology and innovation (ST&I) policies have failed to contribute more effectively increasing Brazilian technological efforts have less to do with the policies themselves and more to do with their detachment from the institutional framework used to implement them. Findings: It is shown that this institutional framework: (i) is barely adherent to the perception of the systemic nature of the innovation process; (ii) does not create enough incentives for bureaucrats in public institutions to allocate resources in the industrial sector; (iii) encourages the pulverization of resources and the consequent loss of focus, which may reduce the efficiency of the adopted policies; (iv) encourages the replication of models and priorities usually adopted in contexts that fail to match the Brazilian reality. Originality/value: In this paper, the focus is on the obstacles that undermine the potential of ST&I policies to contribute more effectively to the improvement of the Brazilian innovation indicators. It is argued that these obstacles have less to do with the innovation policies themselves and more to do with their detachment from the institutional framework used to implement them. This institutional framework includes not only the formal and legal rules but also informal social norms that govern individual behavior and structure social interactions.