17 Rooms Virtual Workshop Generates 763 Ideas for Advancing Sustainable Development Goals at the University of Toronto

Mar 22nd, 2021  |  News

Breadth, range, and focused ideation: 121 participants connect in 17 virtual rooms and share their divergent thinking on how to advance each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals at the University of Toronto.

Sustainable Development and the U of T Community

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are 17 integrated global goals which call for universal action to end poverty, protect our natural environment and secure peace and prosperity by 2030. They were adopted by all UN member states as the core of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in September 2015.  

The goals resonate strongly with the University of Toronto (UofT) as a whole and are reflected, says UofT President Meric Gertler, in “our ongoing commitment to community engagement, to addressing larger societal challenges and to fostering a global mindset among our students, staff and professoriate.”  


Sustainable Development and OISE CPL: Lifelong Learning

At OISE CPL we are embarking on CPL 2030, our vision and plan to actively adopt the Sustainable Development Goals framework as the conceptual framework for OISE CPL learning solutions, services, and operations.  

Sustainable Development Goal #4, which is “to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all,” most notably aligns to our objectives. However, the SDGs are highly synergistic, and along with Goal #4, we know we can make a significant contribution to the following goals: #3, Mental Health; #5, Equity and Gender; #8, Economy & Work and #9; Infrastructure and Capacity. 


An image of Sustainable Development Goal #4, which says: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
Sustainable Development Goal #4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.


Our work and research in continuing education – in developing education systems, systems capacity, and educator skills – is fundamentally about providing the requisites for lifelong learning. We are uniquely positioned to integrate our purpose into the global context of sustainable development and “building back better,” as well as considering how to make our own U of T systems sustainable.  



17 (Zoom) Rooms 

Practising our commitment to the SDGs our Executive Director, Dr. Elisabeth Rees-Johnstone, recently designed and led a virtual workshop of SDG dialogues called “17 Zoom Rooms.”

The U of T event was inspired by the 17 Rooms Initiative launched by the Brookings Institute and the Rockefeller Foundation to stimulate innovative forms of collective action aimed at advancing the SDGs. 


121 Participants

We assigned each of the 121 workshop participants to one of 17 virtual “rooms” and invited them to generate ideas on how to advance the SDGs at the university and beyond.  


The participants included a range of UofT faculty (research and teaching stream, tenure and early-career), students (graduate and post-doc) and staff (administrative) from across our three campuses and representing diverse areas of research and experience. Some participants had deep experience and knowledge of the SDGs, while others had limited awareness of the SDGs and Agenda 2030. 

763 Ideas Generated

The Workshop included a content repository of reference material, a moderated panel discussion, small group break outs and virtual collaboration via online whiteboards. Participants were asked what the UofT research and teaching communities could do to advance the SDG assigned to each group, with a focus on Research or Courses, along with Methods, Partners and Resources.  

Workshop discussions generated ideas that ran the gamut from research on inclusive technologies, and food security in education contexts, to course-related ideas such as entrepreneurship training, food law and policy, and integrating SDGs into existing courses. Similarly, attendees suggested a wide variety of methods for achieving the ideas, including research as experiential learning and digital story telling methods for mobilizing knowledge. 

17 Zoom Room participants also explored partnership and professional development ideas related to programming and methodologies.  

In the end, our 121 17 Zoom Rooms participants generated and posted 763 insightful ideas focused on creating the conditions for SDGs at UofT and demonstrated a strong interest in SDGs and willingness to co-create solutions and concrete actions moving forward. 


Professional Development

All of the discussion and ideas were relevant and interesting to OISE CPL, and we were particularly interested in ideas related to research, course experiences, and to professional development. One key insight related to professional development that we will explore is offering professional programming in K-12 and post-secondary education sectors that supports the SDG goals and integration into teaching, research, and administration via the following: 

  • Community-based participatory research  
  • Digital storytelling 
  • Global competencies and the SDGs 
  • An Institutional SDG Leaders Program 
  • SDG Curriculum Design

What’s Next?

OISE CPL Executive Director, Dr. Elisabeth Rees-Johnstone continues to contribute to a Brookings Institute Community of Practice for universities who are keen to advance methods for 17 Zoom Rooms as well as Agenda 2030 professional development approaches. In addition, OISE CPL is an active member of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). With colleagues in that network we are collaborating to advance an SDG education simulation program in 2021. 



The Brookings Institute report is now available. 
UofT Article: UofT Students and Researchers Brainstorm Ways to Advance Sustainable Development Goals


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