UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose


Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose (IIPP) engages with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) across its research, teaching and policy work.  It also serves as the host for the United Kingdom’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN UK).​​​​​​​

The SDGs have the potential to be transformed from grand societal challenges into a multitude of targeted, time-bound and ambitious missions, with the ability to direct long-term innovation, and move public and private sector investment in a sustainable direction. Such transformation is at the heart of IIPP’s work. We engage with groups as diverse as policy-makers, financial institutions, urban designers, agriculturalists and artists, developing both the economic theory, and the hands-on practices, needed for the SDGs to be realised.

IIPP’s work directly advances the SDGs, for example our work on SDGs and taxation or on green finance, as well as seeks to change the  ways  in which governments think, organise and innovate in response to global challenges. IIPP plays a leadership role in connecting UK higher education institutions around the SDGs and through its leadership of SDSN UK.

Research in Action

IIPP’s practice-based research and policy work supports the SDGs. For example, IIPP’s research on the green economy and green finance responds to the climate emergency (SDG 13) and our new thinking on health innovation is linked to SDG 3, which commits to ensuring healthy lives for all. However, IIPP’s contributions toward the SDGs should be understood more broadly: we not only need technological solutions, but also new ways of thinking about the state and its role in driving innovation and enabling sustainable development.

Accordingly, questions of how we direct innovation for sustainable development, and the new economic plans, metrics and governance structures we need for these shared challenges, are vital for policy-makers worldwide. To harness the full potential of the SDGs, governments must take a market-shaping role, signalling opportunities in social, technological, and organisational innovation. And this must be supported by long-term patient capital. Realising the full potential of science, technology and innovation, requires significant changes to not only how governments work but also to the institutions that enable and govern these transitions.

See below examples of IIPP’s research and policy projects that advance the SDGs.

United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UN SDSN)

SDSN logo

IIPP has had a close relationship with the UN SDSN, which brings together higher education institutions to advance the SDGs, since 2017. In an early workshop, Professor Mariana Mazzucato and Professor Jeff Sachs (Columbia University), joined by Jeff Hodges (Innovate UK) and Professor Richard Nelson, among others, laid out a shared vision of the innovation challenges associated with the SDGs and the role for mission-oriented innovation.

Four years later, in 2021, IIPP established SDSN UK, the national hub for UK-based members of UN SDSN, with the purpose of bringing together and mobilising UK higher education institutions around practical solutions that contribute to the implementation of the SDGs. SDSN UK aims to advance research and inter-disciplinary collaborations to address the challenges of sustainable development, promote high-quality education for Agenda 2030 and engage effectively with policy-makers. 

Teaching the Next Generation

IIPP’s teaching at both the masters and executive levels brings attention to grand challenges, including industrial policy and innovation (SDG 9), inequality (SDG 10), and the climate emergency (SDG 13). Our doctoral candidates are also working with IIPP academics to answer important questions on topics ranging from energy transitions (SDG 7) to the governance of vaccine development (SDG 3).

The MPA programme is designed to help students understand how significant change happens and how to challenge orthodox economic and new public management thinking. These topics are central to modules including New Economic Thinking and Public Value; Economics of Innovation and Public Purpose; Politics, Power and Systems Change; and Transformation by Design. In addition, each year students benefit from deep dive enrichment lectures, which have covered topics including Sustainable Development in Africa and Climate Change Adaptation.

Finally, IIPP foregrounds the SDGs in its work with executive education partners. This is both through the discussion of missions in relation to the SDGs, as well as through providing specific lectures on understanding the politics, history, and use of the SDGs.

Research and policy projects

AT2030 Global Disability Innovation Hub and Department for International Development

iParadigmEIT Climate-Kic

ISIGrowthHorizon 2020

United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network 

Biscay Fiscal (Tax) Policy and the SDGsBiscay Government

Publication highlights

To browse more IIPP working papers, policy briefs and policy reports, please visit our Publications page.


Further reading


For more information on our work on IIPP's work around Sustainable Development Goals, please contact Kate Roll, Head of Teaching and Assistant Professor in Innovation, Development and Value at IIPP:
Email: k.roll@ucl.ac.uk