The objective of the Municipal Services Project (MSP) is to critically investigate alternatives to privatization. Our research focuses on the electricity, health, water and sanitation sectors in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Our aim is to identify and document successful ‘public’ service delivery models and the conditions required for their sustainability and reproducibility.
Our research starts from the premise that privatization has failed to deliver on its promise of effective and affordable service delivery in the global South. Our focus, however, is on alternatives for the future. There is a growing rethink of neoliberal reforms and a renewed interest in alternatives to privatization that include a wide variety of actors – from governments to civil society groups to frontline workers. We develop tools for researchers and practitioners to better understand historical, contemporary and proposed alternatives to commercialized service delivery. We investigate models such as public-public partnerships, worker cooperatives, community-owned systems, progressive financing schemes and rights-based constitutional approaches. We are particularly concerned with linking primary health care approaches with alternative forms of electricity, water and sanitation delivery.
Finding recipes for success
The MSP has established a set of norms to evaluate public service delivery, including equity, transparency, accountability and solidarity. There is no singular way to evaluate these norms – and no service is ‘perfect’ – but it is an attempt to establish explicit and measurable criteria against which public service delivery models can be gauged, and which allow for reasonable comparisons across sectors and regions. If we are to advance our understanding of the growing array of non-private service delivery models – as well as models that were used historically – we need reliable methods for evaluating and comparing them.
Encouraging participatory research
We are committed to broad-based participation and knowledge sharing. We have built a wide network of researchers, social activists and organizations involved in alternatives, including academics, NGOs and trade unions. Our objective is to conduct research that is relevant and useful to communities and organizations on the ground. For this reason, we actively seek the participation of communities, front-line service workers, managers and other parties involved in the delivery or consumption of services. This enables us to build research capacity and insights at the grassroots level.
Advocating for reforms
The project advocates for progressive service delivery reforms to generate more equitable and sustainable outcomes. We engage from the local to the multilateral level, sharing promising alternatives with government officials, labour unions, NGOs, social movements, donor agencies, development banks and other policy makers. Yet there are daunting challenges. Many public sector bureaucracies have thoroughly imbued a commercial ethos and future progressive public delivery will require both reclaiming and transforming the state.
Building on the past
The first two phases of the MSP focused on critiques of privatization and other forms of service commercialization. Particular attention was paid to the impact of these neoliberal reforms on equity and health, with a focus on South and Southern Africa. The project had far-reaching impacts in South Africa and the region, affecting government policy on service delivery and shaping actions by labour organizations, NGOs and social movements. It produced a large body of work that continues to inform academic debate on the future of service delivery in countries in the South. Visit our Publications Archive and see the Media Coverage received in past years.