The Cities Alliance toolkit helps cities understand equitable economic growth and how they can use the provision of goods and services to create a better environment for decent employment.


[23 January 2017] -- Much has been said of the positive effect urbanisation can have on economic development. However, if left to itself, urbanisation is not guaranteed to be equitable; despite the massive wealth generated in cities, roughly one quarter of the world’s urban population – some 900 million people – live and work in slums.  

Cities Alliance believes that cities can play an important role in fostering growth that generates more and equal opportunities for all. It has established a Joint Work Programme (JWP) on Equitable Economic Growth that is exploring how cities can steer the provision of public goods and services to benefit all residents, while at the same time positively impacting economic growth.

Recently, the Cities Alliance, financed through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, launched a new toolkit to help cities take practical steps to promote equitable economic growth at the local level.

Developed by the UK-based international development consulting firm IPE Triple Line for Cities Alliance, the toolkit is designed to help mayors – especially of small and medium-sized towns in the Global South – understand what equitable economic growth means for their city, and what kind of opportunities and constraints exist.

The toolkit takes access to public goods as an entry point for municipalities that want to create a better environment for providing decent employment, and focuses specifically on those areas over which the municipality has some control.


Developing a simple, but not simplistic, toolkit

As its starting point for the project, Triple Line began building on the definition of what equitable economic growth means for cities in which Cities Alliance is working.

It began with the premise that, in order to have equitable economic growth, there must be economic opportunities in the form of decent, productive employment that can be accessed by everyone in society, regardless of economic status, gender, and ethnicity.

Currently, however, that sort of equitable economic growth is not happening in the Global South as countries move from less to more urbanisation. Instead, constraints to growth are cropping up, especially in providing access to basic services and infrastructure.  This limits the economic growth potential of cities both in terms of the development of human capital and productivity in the private sector.

The idea was to develop a simple, but not simplistic, toolkit that mayors in smaller towns and cities of Sub-Saharan Africa – some of the most under-resourced in terms of capacity, data, funding, and access to public goods – could use as a starting point to generate insights into access to public goods and services.

It needed to develop insight rapidly and in an incremental way to enable cities to develop more depth to their insights over time. It also had to complement existing reporting frameworks and planning tools and strengthen understanding of equitable economic growth.

A flexible tool for data collection and analysis

The resulting toolkit is simple, user-friendly, and flexible. It can be used by cities just starting out with data collection, or those who want deeper insights into access to public goods and services. It consists of three components, which together make up a process:

  1 - Situational Assessment. A descriptive presentation of the facts and narratives related to the provision and use of infrastructure and services public goods in a city.

  2 - Causal Analysis. A closer analysis of the reasons why access to infrastructure and services varies, and the impact on citizens (especially the working poor) and businesses in general. It also looks at how to overcome the barriers.

  3 - Solutions Framework. Constructing a workable policy solution to the constraints that have been identified, proposing key entry points for concrete interventions, and ensuring stakeholder engagement.


The toolkit captures data in nine areas that are of interest to urban managers:  background, economy and employment, municipal finances, Water, Sanitation and Solid Waste Management (WASH), education, health services, energy, connectivity (transportation), and land and housing.

Specific indicators are used for each category that describe an overall level of access for citizens and disaggregate levels of access according to pricing, distribution, production of public goods. For example, one indicator for WASH is water. Data collected includes access, reliability, and affordability.

It’s a flexible framework that allows cities to decide how deeply they want to examine the issue depending on their resources and comfort level. For cities with very limited resources, it may only be possible to have a general overview of access to public goods (core indicators). Others can progress to a more detailed quantitative level of analysis or disaggregate further, such as by household characteristic or geographic location.

To present the toolkit in a friendly way, Triple Line developed one-page workbooks for each public good and a questionnaire to obtain more information. Each workbook captures information on level of access to public goods by describing a core and a supporting indicator.

When all the indicators are put together, a summary scorecard is produced that provides a snapshot of overall access to eight public goods in an easy-to-use traffic light format. Red is below average access, yellow is average access, and green is above average. The scorecard is a good way to provide a simple, useful summary of the work that is being done.

An example of a summary scorecard generated through the toolkit:






Despite the simple framework, quite a lot of data is generated. The toolkit provides a mechanism for helping cities put it all together and come to a consensus over the likely impact unequal access to goods and services is having on productivity and employability of individuals.

It also allows for a comparison across cities, which can engender some healthy competition among them.



Pilot testing, and some surprising results

As part of the development process, Triple Line piloted the toolkit in select cities where Cities Alliance Country Programmes had been active. This enabled the firm to collect feedback and improve the product as the pilots progressed.

Martyn Clark, Managing Consultant on Triple Line’s urban development team, noted that the pilot testing resulted in a surprising outcome, and that the data collected through the process was just a starting point.

“The dialogue generated through the process is perhaps the most important part of the toolkit,” Mr. Clark said at a webinar presenting the toolkit in November.

“During the pilots, when stakeholders sat around the table to discuss the scorecard, they began a conversation about why access was unequal to some public goods as opposed to others, why that was the case, and the impact on economic growth. This then developed into a policy discussion about how the municipality could address the issues.”


What sets the Cities Alliance toolkit apart

With so many different toolkits available to cities, what makes the Cities Alliance tool different? One key area is its focus on smaller and local businesses.

“Nobody is really thinking about the impact on the local business community of unequal access to public goods,” Mr. Clark said. “There’s an assumption the economy is ticking along somehow, but certainly from an LED planning perspective, nobody is looking at this angle.  They have access to power and water of some form, but it is much more expensive for smaller and informal businesses.”

The toolkit also helps cities get a more accurate picture of who is providing services, and how. In many cities, people obtain services from community groups or informal providers rather than traditional service providers. The toolkit aims to capture information on all types of providers –  individuals and firms, city managers, local businesses, and community groups, among others.

Critically, the toolkit lets cities take a deeper look at the data and see the differences in cost of access and the scale of formal service provision, so they can understand the difference between obtaining water from a formal service provider vs an informal one.

This is valuable information that most cities are lacking. Mr. Clark noted that most cities in the pilot had no data on the level of economic activity, the size of their informal settlements, or a policy that allowed them to engage with informality.

The exception was Mbale, Uganda, which has a very active civil society and federations of slum dwellers who work together with the local government on informal settlements to collect data on communities and how to deliver public services. Mbale participated in the Cities Alliance Country Programme in Uganda (the Transforming Settlements of the Urban Poor in Uganda programme), and mapping informal settlements to help residents better negotiate with the municipality was a key part of the programme.


Looking ahead

Following the successful pilot, it is clear the toolkit offers some exciting possibilities for resource-strapped cities to begin thinking about equitable economic growth.

It will be used to inform another important component of the Joint Work Programme (JWP) for Equitable Economic Growth: the Campaign Cities. Two cities in partner countries will be invited to become Campaign Cities, and a JWP member will facilitate a 24-month local support initiative to promote equitable access to public goods and services, through focus areas adapted to the city’s specific needs and context. Each city will produce an Institutional Enabling Environment Report, a Local Assessment Report and city-level, evidence-based policy briefs and recommendations.

The toolkit will help clarify and identify key public services in the Campaign Cities that have a direct influence on economic growth trajectories. It will also inform Cities Alliance activities, for example in the development of new Country Programmes.


About the Cities Alliance JWP on Equitable Economic Growth

Our Joint Work Programme (JWP) on Equitable Economic Growth works globally and locally to identify and facilitate knowledge and concrete interventions that achieve equitable economic growth in cities. It focuses specifically on supporting equitable access to public goods and services by all citizens and formal and informal businesses.

Chaired by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the JWP includes the Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF), Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), the Ford Foundation, the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), UN-Habitat and the World Bank.




“The dialogue generated through the process is perhaps the most important part of the toolkit. During the pilots, when stakeholders sat around the table to discuss the scorecard, they began a conversation ... This then developed into a policy discussion about how the municipality could address the issues.” --Martyn Clark, Managing Consultant on IPE Triple Line


Related Items:

Equitable Economic Growth in your Town or City: A diagnostic toolkit

Equitable Economic Growth in African Cities Final Report

Webinar on Equitable Economic Growth: City Diagnostics 

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