Strategies for the poor: autonomous action, claim-making and co-production

Three forms of action are available to the urban poor to address their needs: autonomous action (independent of the state), claim-making (making demands on the state), and co-production (working with governments and aid agencies in decentralised flexible poverty reduction initiatives) (IIED, 2008: 2).

The scale and importance of autonomous action of the urban poor is often underestimated; collective action may be invisible to outsiders. Actions may include establishing savings groups, clubs and parents’ associations supporting local schools, for example. However, there are limits to the effectiveness of collective action independent of government, given the scale of the challenges and the limited resources available to the urban poor (Hasan, 2006). Low-income groups have limited capacity to collectively set up and manage infrastructure and services. In addition, given the diversity of actors in urban areas, it may be difficult to garner the necessary consensus for collective action or defuse disagreements when they arise. This is particularly challenging where conflicts of interest, political allegiances, ethnic ties, language or religion can undermine attempts to organise (Lemanski, 2008).

Claim-making is the most common strategy for getting needs addressed (IIED, 2008). The history of many informal settlements is one of slow and difficult negotiation with government agencies for services, tenure and house upgrading. These claims often form the basis of clientelist relations, which are ubiquitous in urban politics (Mitlin, 2006).

Citizen-led co-production refers to the joint development of public services by citizens and state. Many organisations of the urban poor have sought to shift engagement with government from making demands to offering partnership (IIED, 2008). They recognise that state agencies cannot fulfil their obligations alone, and organisations and federations of the urban poor can facilitate, design and implement cheaper and more effective responses. Principles of co-production include the following (Löffler, 2008):

  • Service users are seen as active asset-holders rather than passive consumers.
  • Collaborative relationships between staff and service users are promoted.
  • The focus is on delivery of outcomes rather than just ‘services’.
  • Co-production can be substitutive (replacing local government inputs with those from communities) or additive (adding more community inputs to professional inputs or introducing professional support to previous individual self-help or community self-organising).

Types of co-production

Co‐commissioning of services, which embraces:

  • Co‐planning of policy – e.g. deliberative participation, Planning for Real, Open Space
  • Co‐prioritisation of services – e.g. individual budgets, participatory budgeting
  • Co‐financing of services – e.g. fundraising, charges, agreement to tax increases

Co‐design of services – e.g. user consultation, service design labs, customer journey mapping

Co‐delivery of services, which embraces:

  • Co‐management of services – e.g. leisure centre trusts, community management of public assets, school governors
  • Co‐performing of services – e.g. peer support groups (such as expert patients) , Nurse‐Family Partnerships, meals‐on‐wheels, Neighbourhood Watch

Co‐assessment (including co‐monitoring and co‐evaluation) of services – e.g. tenant inspectors, user on‐line ratings, participatory village appraisals.

Source: Bovaird & Loeffler (2012: 4–5).

Participatory budgeting is one example of co-production that has shown some potential in developing pro-poor policies and spending. It originated in the late 1980s in Porto Alegre (Brazil) as an experimental, consultative process driven by city government and social movements. Part of the city’s budget was determined through an annual consultative cycle (see box below). A World Bank evaluation (2008b) of participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre identified high levels of participation and a shift in capital spending towards pro-poor projects, but also highlighted monitoring problems. The process enabled citizens to influence capital investments but it failed to create space for debate.

Although participatory budgeting is in its infancy in Asia and the Pacific, examples from Pune (India) and  Asian Development Bank (ADB) projects in Indonesia and Pakistan show enhanced awareness of resource allocation and budgeting among citizens (UN-Habitat, 2010a). For instance, social audits facilitate community scrutiny of public expenditure and help government departments plan, manage and measure non-financial activities and monitor the impact of their social and commercial operations. In the Marshall Islands, a joint government–civil society initiative, Gender and Youth Sensitive Public Expenditure Management, aimed to increase budget allocation for women and youth. Budget analyses have also been used for advocacy and steering government priorities in favour of disadvantaged citizens. In Indonesia, the Bandung Institute of Governance Studies analysed the impact of housing policy and budgets on informal settlements, and the Coalition for Women focused budget advocacy on women’s concerns.

Porto Alegre (Brazil): participatory budgeting

Participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre began in 1989. Citizens present their demands and priorities for civic improvement, exerting an influence through discussion and negotiation of budget allocations. Since its inception allocations for public welfare works in the city have been made only after the recommendations of public delegates and approval by the city council. Participatory budgeting has improved the city’s facilities: sewerage and water connections increased from covering 75% of total households in 1988 to 98% in 1997. The number of participants in the process reached 40,000 per year in less than a decade, indicating success in encouraging citizen involvement.

This has inspired other municipalities to follow suit: participatory budgeting has been adopted in over 1,500 cities worldwide. It has improved the accessibility and quality of services in municipalities, and empowered low-income groups. However, lack of representation of the poorest is a shortcoming that needs to be addressed.

Sources: Ganuza & Baiocchi (2012); World Bank (nd).