UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose

Dr Kate Roll

Dr Kate Roll

Associate Professor

Inst for Innovation and Public Purpose

Faculty of the Built Environment

Joined UCL
15th Apr 2019

Research summary

Dr Roll’s research is broadly divided into three streams. The first stream concerns the economies of peace, with a focus on the politics of benefits programmes for former combatants. This has resulted in publications on the political economy of veterans’ pension programmes in Timor-Leste, the site of her doctoral research, as well as on the challenges of conducting field-based research in complex and post-conflict environments. This work challenges simplistic, security- or corruption-focused explanations of pensions programmes, instead viewing them as a means of reimagining conflict histories and distributing resources accordingly. 


The second stream critically engages with private sector approaches to development, particularly ‘base of the pyramid’ route-to-market programmes. This work has involved field-work in Kenya, the Philippines, and Indonesia; in Kenya, this work involved innovative photo-elicitation interview techniques, which use photographs taken by interviewees to guide the conversations. As part of this second stream of work, she also co-leads a randomised control trial (RCT) experiment in partnership with colleagues at Oxford’s Centre for the Study of African Economies investigating the impact of greater risk-sharing in micro-finance contracts. 

The third stream focuses on the sustainable development goals (SDGs). This work is focused on understanding the politics of the SDGs and how they can be incorporated into policy. At IIPP, she led the BEAR project in the Biscay region of Spain, which worked closely with tax authorities ito bring taxation and fiscal policies into greater alignment with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. 

In addict to this research, Dr Roll serves as the Bartlett Faculty Lead for Public Policy and chairs the MSc for the Built Environment Exam Board. She also is the founder and chair of the UK Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a network of universities supported by the United Nations.

Teaching summary

At IIPP, Dr Roll serves as the Head of Teaching and Admissions Tutor. Since joining in 2019, she has overseen the launch of IIPP’s flagship Master of Public Administration (MPA) programme, supported the development of IIPP’s doctoral programme, and established the growing executive education programme. Her writing about teaching has been featured in The Guardian and Times Higher Education

An exuberant and devoted lecturer, she was nominated for the Most Outstanding Lecturer award in 2018 while at the University of Oxford, and, in 2020, she was nominated for the UCL Student Choice awards for both Active Student Partnership and Exceptional Feedback at UCL. She has been amongst the highest ranked lecturers at the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, since she began teaching. She is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

At IIPP, Dr Roll leads the Global Challenges and Systems Change MPA module and supervises MPA and PhD students. She also co-leads an initiative to bring the University of Toronto's Global Reach programme to UCL. Outside of UCL, she continues to co-convene the Innovation Strategy module at the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford

Dr Roll's high-energy, interactive approach is informed by her early experience teaching undergraduates in Oxford’s distinctive tutorial-style as a Lecturer in Empirical Politics for Somerville College and Lecturer in General Management, Lady Margaret Hall. Later, while at the Saïd Business School, Dr Roll developed a popular elective on Technology for Impact, through which students explored the promises and limitations of digital technologies to address some of the world’s most wicked problems.


Dr Kate Roll is a political scientist interested in vulnerability, with a particular focus on the factors that enable people to gain greater social, political and economic security. Her work asks questions such as: Who gets what after war and why? And who carries risk when corporations sell through the poor? Her multi-disciplinary work brings together politics, technology, business ethics, and development studies. Committed to grounded research, she has conducted in-depth field research in Timor-Leste, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Kenya.

Dr Roll holds a DPhil in Politics (2015) and an MPhil in International Development Studies (2011; distinction) from the University of Oxford. Dr Roll’s doctoral fieldwork involved logging over 1,000 km on a motorbike, crisscrossing Timor-Leste to survey and interview over 220 registered former combatants – now one of the largest studies of its kind. Her BA from Brown University is in International Relations (2006; honours, Phi Beta Kappa), where her award-winning thesis focussed on how private military companies establish legitimacy.