Urban Services Initiative 


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Nepal Conference  |  South Africa Conference  |  Sri Lanka Conference  

About the Urban Services Initiative

The Urban Services Initiative (USI), managed by J-PAL and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, seeks to identify and rigorously evaluate innovative methods designed to improve the welfare of the urban poor in Asia and Africa. USI covers a broad range of urban issues including water and sanitation, migration and urbanization, energy, transportation, housing and infrastructure, and delivery of health and education services. 

Through the use of randomized evaluations, the initiative aims to better understand and address important barriers to the provision of critical urban services, including collective action failures, political economy constraints, low willingness to pay for services, and difficulties that may arise from the presence of a mix of transient and permanent populations.

Executive Summary of the Urban Services Review Paper

Full Urban Services Review Paper

USI Main Objectives

1.    Encourage innovative projects designed to address the challenge of delivering urban services, and use randomized evaluations to test the effectiveness of those innovations in the field. The overarching question will be: “Why has the quality of urban services remained critically deficient in many developing countries, and what are the most promising, cost-effective ways of overcoming those deficiencies?”

2.    Establish strong research teams, and increase capacity for some developing countries researchers to design and conduct rigorous, randomized evaluations to test the effectiveness of their proposed solutions. Enhance researchers’ ability to think about the interdisciplinary nature of the challenges so that any proposed interventions jointly address any behavioral, financial, institutional, and technological constraints.

3.    Disseminate knowledge learned from USI research to policymakers and donors at the local, national, and international levels, so that effective solutions are promoted and scaled-up. Develop capacity for local institutions and researchers in developing countries to carry forward this research agenda on urban services beyond the life of USI.

USI seeks to achieve these objectives through a range of activities, which include:

  • Identifying, training, and supporting developing country researchers to engage in USI’s activities;
  • Identifying potential partners, scientists, and researchers in complementary fields in an effort to promote interdisciplinary research; 
  • Organizing matchmaking conferences to identify innovative projects and forge new research partnerships; 
  • Conducting regular Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for invited researchers, both for pilot studies and for full research evaluations; and
  • Disseminating research findings with local governments and NGOs through an array of activities such as policy documents, meetings, and an evidence workshop.
The USI co-chairs are Professors Esther Duflo (MIT), Sebastian Galiani (University of Maryland), and A. Mushfiq Mobarak (Yale University). USI is funded by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. For more details, please email Thomas Chupein at tchupein@povertyactionlab.org.