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Research Agenda

Phase 2: 2005-10
Programme 1:
Public Action & Private Investment
Programme 2:
Collective Action Around Service Delivery
Programme 3:
State Capacity

Phase 1: 2000-05

Programme 1:
Financing the State

Programme 2:
Mobilising Public Action

Programme 3:
Co-Producing Public Services

Phase 2 - Programme 2:
Collective Action Around Service Delivery

Convenors: Anuradha Joshi, IDS and Adrian Gurza Lavalle, CEBRAP (from 2007)


In recent years, there has been a sea change in thinking about effective service provision - from the earlier confidence about the potential viability of monopolistic direct provision of services by state agencies, to the more pluralistic vision of provision through non-profit or market-based actors, decentralization, privatisation, and even outright self-provisioning. To some degree, these latter modes of service delivery have always co-existed with direct state provision; however, they are acquiring unprecedented prominence today. Further, the policy and research agendas are shifting. It was initially believed that the most important issues lay in the 'regulatory' domain, i.e. in the relationship between the actual service providers and the state agencies that retained some kind of residual responsibility. Now, as illustrated by the focus of the 2004 World Development Report on service delivery to poor people, there is a wider understanding that forms of engagement of both direct providers and state agencies with the actual users/beneficiaries of public services are likely to play a major role in shaping the effectiveness of service delivery. The major challenge is to find ways of increasing the responsiveness and accountability of service deliverers to users and citizens.


The proposed research is built around the idea that responsiveness and accountability in service delivery, at least to poorer sectors of the population, depend, on the one hand, on the ability of users/beneficiaries to engage in collective action and, on the other, on the ability of the state to negotiate consensuses between competing demands. Collective action by users contributes to more responsive governance when the state is able to lead a process of consensus construction. Collective action without negotiation can lead to either demand overload or policy fragmentation - as public officials respond to multiple particularistic demands - or to new inequalities because some groups of people have greater capacity to engage in collective action than others. We propose to explore, in a disciplined fashion:

(a) what happens to collective action by service users/beneficiaries when one moves from large-scale monolithic or integrated public delivery to small-scale (decentralised, fragmented) privately-mediated delivery (through sub-contracting and outright privatisation, including through faith-based organisations); and

(b) how this affects the ability of the state to negotiate agreements/consensus around policies. The core theoretical idea behind these questions, to be explored in the research, is that institutions can play an important role in shaping people's interests and in creating incentives and disincentives for collective action and negotiating consensuses.


This research theme emerges partially from the last phase's DRC Programmes 2 (Collective Actors) and Programme 3 (Effective Service Delivery for the Poor). The programme will develop a substantial comparative research agenda on collective action by users/beneficiaries of public services such as health and education, especially in urban areas. It will focus on the following core research questions:

  1. How do different forms of service delivery affect collective action by service users/beneficiaries and the ability of public officials to negotiate policy? For example, with private-mediated delivery, a new set of actors - non-profit or market-oriented service providers - enter the scene. How does the entry of this group of actors affect the scope for collective action by users/beneficiaries and change opportunities for alliances? Is there collective action by service providers as well as service users? If so, does this alter the kinds of policy consensuses that public officials can negotiate?
  2. Do formal participatory institutional arrangements, such policy councils that bring together users, providers, and government agencies, influence the pattern of collective action by users/beneficiaries of social services, such as health and education, and urban services, such as water and sanitation? Do they always facilitate negotiation between users/beneficiaries, providers, and public officials?
  3. How do dynamics of the polity, as set in motion by political leaders, organisations and institutions, influence collective action by users/beneficiaries, public service unions and professional associations? When do these dynamics enhance the capacity of public officials to negotiate policies that favour poorer service users/beneficiaries?
  4. Holding the above factors constant, when are service users likely to engage in various types of collective action? What is the influence of such factors as:
    (i) the type of service (e.g. health vs. education vs. sanitation);
    (ii) the type of population served (e.g. universal vs. targeted programmes, or men vs. women);
    (iii) the level at which service is provided (e.g. national, state, local, region of the city);
    (iv) the extent to which there is a ‘natural demand' for the service;
    (v) whether there exist alternative channels for obtaining the service, including self-provisioning; and
    (vi) whether the 'community' served is heterogeneous or homogenous.

We are envisaging that the programme comprise one large multi-country comparative project - to maximise genuine comparability - and other smaller, in-country comparative projects that develop some of the themes of the programme in different directions. The large comparative project will consist of comparisons between four cities—Sao Paulo, Johannesburg, Mexico City and New Delhi to trace how changes in the modes of provision in two basic services have impacted on collective action, and, to some degree, what the impact of collective action has been on service providers. The research will cover a twenty year period, using a combination of qualitative methods, network analysis and some quantitative analysis of outputs.

Research themes and projects

The research themes at present being concentrated on under this programme are:

  1. a cross-national study that explores whether the institutional modes of service provisio (in areas such as health or sanitation) have a substantial impact on the capacity of the urban poor to organise and engage with policy makers and service providers alike.
  2. aims to systematically examine the various forms, modes and strategies through which the urban citizenry mobilises to influence the changing structures of urban services, or to respond to them.
  3. a mapping exercise to identify collective actors who are, either providing basic education service directly, influencing government education policies alone or providing education service and also influencing education policies.
  4. collective action around education delivery encompasses the participation of user groups in the delivery of education, responsiveness and accountability to users and citizens breaking state monopoly, hence decentralising and democratising the delivery of education.

For further information on all projects currently running under this Programme, please click here>>


  • Series of three country-specific working papers reporting the principal research findings;
  • Series of articles based on the working papers
  • A number of conference and workshop papers
  • Comparative book manuscript

An individual Reader List consisting of key texts for Programme 2 has now been compiled and distributed in hard copy or CD format. For more information please see the Resource Page of the DRC Capacity Building Programme





Projects currently running under this programme:

Collective Action Around Education Service Delivery in the Cities of Accra and Tamala Ghana: The Role of Non-Governmental Actions

Mapping of Collective Action around Education and Health Service Delivery in Kumasi Ghana - follow up which commenced in June 2006 Mapping Health Service Delivery in Accra and Tamale

Modes of Service Delivery, Collective Action and Social Regulation: Making Public Services Responsive to the Poor in Brazil, India and Mexico

Neighbourhood Associations as Urban Collective Actions: A Comparative Study of Bangalore and Chennai

Outputs Latest

Research Programme Summary - of principal findings.

Methods & Research Strategy Notes now available together with Portuguese questionnaire forms focussing on four sectors. Further details under the Capacity Building

Network Analysis workshop held at the Centre for Jawaharlal Nehru Studies at Jamia Milia Islamia University, India 4-6 December. Further detail

An individual Reader List consisting of key texts for Programme 2 has now been compiled and distributed in hard copy or CD format. For more information please see the Resource Page of the DRC Capacity Building Programme






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