UCL Grand Challenges


The Urban Science/Policy Interface: A UCL-Nature Sustainability Expert Panel

UCL and Nature working together to develop research on cities that is integrated, cross-disciplinary and policy-engaged.

The Grand Challenge of Sustainable Cities supported a collaboration between Nature and UCL to ask fundamental questions about the interface between urban science and urban policy. The then chairs of UCL's Grand Challenge of Sustainable Cities, Prof. Michele Acuto and Prof. Adriana Allen strongly believed that improving links between policy and science were crucial to well-informed policy making and high impact research.


The City Leadership Lab at University College London worked with Nature Sustainability, an interdisciplinary journal from Springer Nature, to convene an expert panel to consider how to improve the links between urban researchers and urban policy makers. The panel was tasked with with conducting an interdisciplinary assessment of the urban science-policy interface, and was chaired by three senior urban scholars, Michele Acuto, Susan Parnell and Karen Seto. It was overseen by the chief editor of Nature Sustainability, Monica Contestabile.

Naure Sustainability Commentary

The chairs presented the panel's vision for a new global urban science in the inaugural issue of Nature Sustainability.

Building a Global Urban Science

The study of cities needs to become more than the sum of its parts. An international Expert Panel investigates why, and how.

Comment in Nature Sustainability Volume 1 | Published: 08 January 2018
Michele Acuto, Susan Parnell & Karen C. Seto 

UN Habitiat III

The expert panel built on UCL's involvement with UN Habitat III. UN Habitat is a United Nations programme that aims to ensure a better urban future. The Habitat summits are held once every twenty years and bring together policymakers and scientists. Habitat III was held in October 2016 saw the launch of the UN's New Urban Agenda. The UN summit identified many failed opportunities to link urban policy with advances in urban science. Both sides of the science-policy interface can be criticised, Nature has described the science as "disparate, marginalized and ill-prepared to interact effectively with global policy", while Science has described evidence-led  policymaking as "dysfunctional in many parts of the world."

London Meetings and Public Event

Michele Acuto, Adriana Allen, Yasser Elsheshtawy, Xuemei Bai and Susan Parnell prepare for the public panel.

The panel brought together 25 internationally recognised urban experts from a variety of disciplines, geographies and research backgrounds, and ran between May and November 2017. All the panellists attended meetings in London on the 3rd and 4th of July 2017, hosted by UCL and The Royal Society. Nature then hosted "Science and the Future of Cities" on the 5th of July, a public event for representatives of the panel (Michele Acuto, Adriana Allen, Yasser Elsheshtawy, Xuemei Bai and Susan Parnell) to discuss its process and findings . 
Panel convenors and funders