What role do urban local governments play in improving urban service delivery performance in Africa and Asia?

IDG Research, November 2014 - The world's most dynamic and prosperous cities offer high quality urban services. These services improve the ability of cities to attract and retain both talent and capital investments necessary to sustain high productivity levels. It is often assumed that the presence of a dynamic mayor is a key ingredient to effective urban services and the wider success of an urban area. In reality, little is known about the exact impact of local governance on urban service delivery outcomes. A growing body of evidence suggests that poor vertical governance arrangements in many developing economies significantly constrain urban local governments in managing and delivering urban local services.

In an attempt to identify the role that urban local governments play in achieving effective urban services, the Urban Institute—with a research grant from the International Growth Center—has launched a multi-country study to explore the extent to which urban service delivery outcomes are driven or constrained by the different institutional dimensions of the local government system. As part of the study, data will be gathered for 48 cities in 16 different countries across Africa and Asia. In each of these cities, the study will look at three urban services: solid waste management, water supply, and (sewered and non-sewered) sanitation.

For each of these three urban services, our main interest is in exploring the extent to which urban local governments and their political leaders actually have the authority, discretion, capacity, incentives, and accountability mechanisms in place to improve urban service delivery performance. In doing so, the study will consider five institutional aspects of the vertical governance system, including:

  • the effectiveness with which functional assignments are made;
  • the dynamism of the local political leadership;
  • the degree of local control over administrative mechanisms (such as local human resource management and procurement);
  • the degree of local fiscal autonomy; and
  • the strength of local participation and accountability mechanisms.

Our analysis should reveal whether any or all of these institutional dimensions are associated with better service delivery outcomes. Building on research on urban service delivery and governance institutions in South Asia and Africa, the Urban Institute research team expects to complete the current study by October 2015.

Waste collection in Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu India. Photo credit: Lakeview Images