17 Rooms

A partnership between the Center for Sustainable Development at Brookings and The Rockefeller Foundation, 17 Rooms is an experimental method for advancing the economic, social, and environmental priorities embedded in the world’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

About 17 Rooms

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.
  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.

Design principles

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.

If you are interested to learn more or potentially organize your own 17 Rooms-X activities, please email [email protected].

17 Rooms secretariat

In late 2020, a formal secretariat team was established within the Center for Sustainable Development at Brookings to support the overall 17 Rooms initiative, working in close day-to-day collaboration with partners in the Innovation team at The Rockefeller Foundation (RF) and the rest of the 17 Rooms network.


  • John McArthur (17 Rooms co-chair) is senior fellow and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Brookings.
  • Alexandra Bracken is the assistant director for the Center for Sustainable Development. She serves as the overall focal point for Brookings-RF coordination on the 17 Rooms initiative and has day-to-day responsibility for successful overall execution of the flagship process.
  • Jacob Taylor is a fellow in the Center for Sustainable Development. He is responsible for codification of insights and innovations across both the 17 Rooms Global Flagship process and the bottom-up 17 Rooms-X community of practice.
  • Daniel Bicknell is a senior project manager. He serves as the focal point for the environment-related Rooms within the 17 Rooms Global Flagship, supports the 17 Rooms-X regional expansion, and manages the green transitions research project.

The Rockefeller Foundation

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