The 17 Rooms initiative was launched by the Brookings Institution and The Rockefeller Foundation in September 2018, gathering on the eve of the U.N. General Assembly in New York City, as an experiment to stimulate new forms of action for the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Since then, 17 Rooms has evolved on two tracks: (1) an annual global flagship process focused on tackling international-scale SDG challenges; and (2) “17 Rooms-X,” a widely accessible methodology to help local communities take practical steps toward local SDG priorities.
17 Rooms aims to promote pragmatic action within each SDG, while also stimulating productive connections across all goals. Since 2020, the initiative has been co-chaired by John McArthur, senior fellow and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Brookings, and Zia Khan, senior vice president for innovation at The Rockefeller Foundation.
In practical terms, 17 Rooms convenes participants from disparate specialist communities to meet in their own “Rooms,” or working groups, one for each SDG. Each Room is tasked with a common assignment of identifying cooperative actions they can take over the subsequent 12-18 months. Emerging ideas are then shared across Rooms to spot opportunities for collaboration. The process offers an efficient way of convening natural allies, ideally promoting enough familiarity to enable collaboration and enough diversity to spark new ideas and pathways to action.
While the nature of 17 Rooms methodologies continues to evolve through ongoing learning and experimentation, three design principles help define a 17 Rooms experience:
- All SDGs get a seat at the table. Participants, insights, and priorities are valued equally across all the specialist communities focused on individual dimensions of the SDGs.
- Take a next step, not the perfect step. The process encourages participants to identify—and cooperate on—actions that are “big enough to matter, but small enough to get done.”
- Conversations, not presentations. Discussions are structured around collaboration and peer-learning, aiming to focus on what’s best for an issue, not for any individual organization.
These principles contribute to three distinct forms of value: action, insights, and community.
- Advance concrete actions. In considering what participants can do over the following 12-18 months, Room outputs might range from influencing an existing initiative to creating an analytical tool, a communications campaign, a policy shift, a strategic plan, or even a new entity.
- Form novel insights. When participants working on common problems share their perspectives from different backgrounds, organizations, and sectors, unique forms of group learning and inspiration can occur, both within and across Rooms.
- Foster pragmatic communities. A collaborative quest for action grounded in recognition of diverse outlooks can foster a shared sense of energy and opportunity.
For further information, please see:
- “17 Rooms: A new approach to spurring action for the Sustainable Development Goals,” the initiative’s first annual report explaining the history and concepts driving the initiative (February 2021)
- “A new approach to problem-solving across the Sustainable Development Goals,” a blog summarizing the report above (March 2021)If you are interested to learn more or potentially organize your own 17 Rooms-X activities, please email email@example.com.