Saïd Business School
University of Oxford
Park End Street
Dr Kate Roll is a political scientist interested in vulnerability, with a particular focus on the factors that enable people to gain greater social, political and economic security.
Her work asks questions such as: Who gets what after war and why? And who carries risk when corporations sell through the poor? Her multi-disciplinary work brings together politics, technology, business ethics, and development studies. Committed to grounded research, she has conducted in-depth field research in Timor-Leste, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Kenya.
Kate is currently an Associate Professor in Innovation, Development and Purpose at the Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, UCL. She engages in both research and policy work, as well as serves as the Head of Teaching and Admissions Tutor. Since joining in 2019, she has launched IIPP’s flagship Master of Public Administration (MPA) programme, supported the development of IIPP’s doctoral programme, and established the growing executive education programme. She also co-leads an initiative to bring the University of Toronto's Global Reach programme to UCL, and she serves as the Bartlett Faculty Lead for Public Policy at UCL.
Kate holds a DPhil in Politics (2015) and an MPhil in International Development Studies (2011; distinction) from the University of Oxford. Kate's doctoral fieldwork involved logging over 1,000 km on a motorbike, crisscrossing Timor-Leste to survey and interview over 220 registered former combatants – now one of the largest studies of its kind. Her BA from Brown University is in International Relations (2006; honours, Phi Beta Kappa), where her award-winning thesis focussed on how private military companies establish legitimacy.
Kate's research is broadly divided into three streams; while the research subjects are diverse, these areas of research share a focus on political economy and critical development studies. Across her work, Kate has been interested in themes of power, vulnerability and risk, whether in interactions between the state and ex-combatants or between a multi-national corporation and workers.
The first critically engages with private sector approaches to development, particularly ‘base of the pyramid’ route-to-market programmes. This work, which was conducted while she was a Senior Research Fellow at Saïd Business School, has involved field-work in Kenya, the Philippines, and Indonesia. In Kenya, this work uses innovative photo-elicitation interview techniques, which use photographs taken by interviewees to guide the conversations. As part of this second stream of work, she also co-leads a randomised control trial (RCT) experiment in partnership with colleagues at Oxford’s Centre for the Study of African Economies investigating the impact of greater risk-sharing in micro-finance contracts.
The second stream focuses on the sustainable development goals (SDGs). This work is interested in the politics of the SDGs and how they can be incorporated into policy. At IIPP, UCL, she led the BEAR project in the Biscay region of Spain, which worked closely with tax authorities to bring taxation and fiscal policies into greater alignment with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. She also is the founder and chair of the UK Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a network of universities supported by the United Nations.
The final stream concerns the economies of peace, with a focus on the politics of benefits programmes for former combatants. This was the basis of Kate's doctoral research. This has resulted in publications on the political economy of veterans’ pension programmes in Timor-Leste, as well as on the challenges of conducting field-based research in complex and post-conflict environments. This work challenges simplistic, security- or corruption-focused explanations of pensions programmes, instead viewing them as a means of reimagining conflict histories and distributing resources accordingly.
Kate co-convenes the MBA Innovation Strategy elective with Marc Ventresca, and lectures on the PhD programme and Custom Executive Education programmes. Her writing about teaching has been featured in The Guardian and Times Higher Education.
Kate's high-energy, interactive approach is informed by her early experience teaching undergraduates in Oxford’s distinctive tutorial style as a Lecturer in Empirical Politics for Somerville College and Lecturer in General Management, Lady Margaret Hall. Later, while a Senior Research Fellow at Saïd Business School, Kate developed a popular elective, Technology for Impact, through which students explored the promises and limitations of digital technologies to address some of the world’s most wicked problems.
Kate was nominated for the University of Oxford’s Most Outstanding Lecturer award in 2018, and, in 2020, she was nominated for the UCL Student Choice awards for both Active Student Partnership and Exceptional Feedback; she has been amongst the highest ranked lecturers at Saïd Business School. Kate is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
Read more about Kate's career on LinkedIn.