Urban Institute Launches Framework for Assessing Urban Service Delivery

IDG News, April 2014 - In countries around the world, urban areas form the engines of economic growth and provide spaces for social transformation and political inclusion. While there is increasingly widespread agreement that this is the case the exact ways that urban governments interact with these positive attributes of urban areas -whether as a catalyst for economic development or as a provider of public services—is often poorly understood.

In order to better understand why some urban local governments are more successful in delivering urban services than others, theUrban Institute Center on International Development and Governance has developed a framework assessing urban service delivery. Because urban service delivery performance is determined by the interaction of a complex set of institutional (as well as exogenous) factors, an assessment of urban services would be incomplete if it would merely measure the quantity and quality of service provision within an urban area, or the level of service delivery spending that is taking place. The Urban Institute framework identifies and analyzes five institutional dimensions of urban performance, including (a) Effective assignment of functions to the local level, (b) Dynamic local political leadership, (c) Local control over administration and service delivery, (d) Local fiscal autonomy and local financial management, and (e) Local participation and accountability mechanisms.

The main purpose of the assessment framework is for stakeholders—whether within an urban area, within a country, or interested outsides such as international donors —to evaluate the status of urban service delivery within one or more urban areas, by assessing the main institutional factors contributing to urban service delivery performance. It is designed to focus on key urban services such as solid waste management, urban water supply and urban sanitation. Depending on country and context, the framework can be applied to other public services delivered by urban local governments, including (as appropriate) public education and basic health services, roads, public safety, etc.

The Urban Service Delivery Assessment Framework allows systematic collection of institutional structure and performance information. This data by itself can highlight strengths and weaknesses in the discretion and accountability space within which urban leaders work. By comparing one city’s results with others, leaders can also identify factors that might explain their service delivery performance relative to that of peers.

The Urban Service Delivery Assessment Framework was developed by the Urban Institute as a contribution to the community of scholars and practitioners targeting the delivery of services in the fastest growing parts of an urbanizing world.