Completed! Reflections . . .

Cate McLaurin
4 min readJul 23, 2021


Since October 2019 I’ve been a part time masters student at UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose studying on their masters programme — 2019 was the first intake of students for this course. I started this journey in a very different set of circumstances than I finished it in and this week I submitted my final thesis – which felt both weird and amazing. I also realised that I needed to spend some time reflecting on the whole experience before I could really feel that it was completed, so here goes with some thoughts and reflections.

Starting out

I felt nervous about applying. If Rob Miller hadn’t been immediately supportive and Matthew Cain hadn’t also immediately sat down to help me write a more confident application, I might never have got started. Thankyou both. I did go through with it though and got accepted. . .

October 2019

Term one was a module on public value and public purpose, which for me involved a crash course in economics, the realisation that UCL had remodelled since my undergraduate degree so I got lost*, meeting and debating with other students from all over the world, lots of Saturday afternoons in the UCL Dutch library**, an essay on mission orientated organisations and a group project on Copenhagen’s bicycle strategy. . .

January 2020

This is where life starts to throw some curve balls. Two smaller modules*** Rethinking Capitalism and Creative Bureaucracies – both excellent and with a lot of reading. UCL went on strike for a few weeks which was disruptive but we coped, and I had an operation on my hip, which was also quite disruptive and I coped. And then by the end of term the UK was in lockdown. I wrote an good essay on public procurement and a less well thought through one on the root causes of inequality in advanced economies****. And two blog posts — one of which used The Lorax as a way of talking about sustainability aand the role of the state.

Summer 2020

UCL doesn’t teach between April and October which it turns out is a very good thing when there’s a pandemic and work is very busy.

October 2020

Back for the second year, with a few part timers from last year to say hello to, and lots of new faces on screen to get to know. This term was Grand Challenges and lots of reading about systems, wicked problems and policy development. Hackney suffered a cyber attack at roughly the same time term started, which meant that at times I wasn’t sure I’d actually make it through the term, but I did. I also decamped to the Netherlands for a few weeks, because I could.

This time I wrote about homelessness and looked at the use of humble governance for policy innovation. And in a group project we looked at sustainable housing approaches in Australia. Working in a group, via zoom, in more than one time zone was challenging but also inspiring.

January 2021

Final term of teaching and I had to find a short course as an elective. This is trickier than it first appears as the system didn’t really cater for part timers and without Isha, the course adminstrator, patiently entering all of my choices for me, I’d never have found one. Eventually I got accepted by Creative Cities, which turned out to be an excellent choice because it was extremely well taught and organised and it led me to read all sorts of things that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I can heartily recommend Hollow City by Rebecca Solnit. Alongside that course we studied Transformation by Design, with great content and very good to see and read about the theory linking to our approaches at Hackney. I wrote about feminist public art, the reuse of obsolete infrastructure, and The helpful conceit of design thinking.

April 2020

I opted for writing a 10,000 thesis rather than a placement. This was a piece of primary research and I wanted to explore why the thinking and practice of digital transformation hasn’t yet been applied to enabling functions, given their importance in creating an entrepreneurial state? I did 11 interviews with 11 lovely people who gave up their time to talk to me (thankyou), and learnt an awful lot about how to construct a thesis, what to put in, how to not be panicked about bits that feel way too hard and how to write in academic language (and had brilliant, supportive supervisors). 10,000 words turns out to be really not very much — I’ve had to leave out as much as I’ve put in*****.

Overall it has been a brilliant experience. I’m not an outstanding student by any means (and it was never about that for me), but I’ve loved reading widely, listening, debating, exploring, writing — and most importantly thinking about how I can bring back ideas and approaches to work.

  • *rude
  • **very comforting and familiar
  • ***two smaller modules is a lot more reading than one big one. oh yes.
  • ****I really didn’t articulate what I wanted to say very well and I struggled with this one a lot.
  • *****for the first time I’ve struggled with a word limit. This has not been an issue at any other point, with a firm belief that less is more.



Cate McLaurin

Director @PublicDigitalHQ. @madebycatem. alumni @IIPP_UCL MPA graduate. Views are my own. Interested in change, innovation, leadership and digital