Global Development Institute Blog

Wayne Shand, Global Development Institute Honorary Research Fellow

The rising profile of inclusion and urban development in international policy has enlivened discussion about the role of organised communities in improving the conditions in global South cities. With nearly 60 per cent of urban populations in sub-Saharan Africa and more than 30 per cent of urban populations in South Asia living in “slum” settlements, without durable housing, adequate living space, or improved water or sanitation, the fresh debate is welcome. However, it also raises a major set of questions about how inclusive development is realised in contexts where there is a large imbalance of power between the state and urban residents and where the structures of public administration are highly politicised.

A new set of papers in the forthcoming Environment and Urbanization provides a timely contribution to debates by considering the role of citizen-state co-production and urban development. Included is an article on the use of Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) as a tool to define the spaces of dialogue necessary for citizen-state co-production. Drawing from a case study of housing co-production in a low income settlement in Harare Zimbabwe, the paper discusses the importance of creating spaces for negotiation and joint decision-making as a precondition for effective co-production.

Co-production takes place where both service producers and service consumers can see positive advantages of working together and where the benefits outweigh the potential problems of collaboration between citizen groups and the state. Many organised low income groups have the potential to make a contribution to development, through savings, skills, local knowledge and their labour, but lack the structures and trust in the state to negotiate inputs into larger programmes of development activity. The case study of Zimbabwe highlights how an MOU was used to agree the terms of joint-working between the grassroots Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation, NGO Dialogue on Shelter Trust and the City of Harare Council. The MOU was used to create a language of collaboration, to negotiate inputs into the construction of 480 housing units and deal with delivery problems as they occurred.

In the adverse political context of Zimbabwe, where there is ongoing tension between central and city government and a severe lack of local funds to maintain existing basic service infrastructure, funding provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation created an opportunity to experiment with joined-up approaches to settlement upgrading. The MOU established a structure for joint management and delivery of the project and by bringing organised communities and City Council officers together enabled a transfer of learning about how to deliver inclusive approaches to urban development.

MOU are used extensively to record an agreement between public agencies and between public agencies and other parties to regulate conduct and set the terms for mutual accountability on a particular set of issues. In the context of Zimbabwe it provided an effective structure to manage the difficulties of the power imbalance between citizens and the state to create a ‘bubble’ for the delivery of a specific development initiative. While MOU have limitations in their lack of legal enforceability, they provide a means to formalise discussions and give status to the contributions of organised communities as partners in urban development.

The challenge in using MOU is in achieving a lasting impact that normalises the involvement of organised low income communities in settlement upgrading – not just beneficiaries of development, but important stakeholders and contributors to realising the sustainable development goals.

Read Wayne’s latest paper: Making spaces for co-production: collaborative action for settlement upgrading in Harare, Zimbabwe

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