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The most recent phase of MSP research began with a ‘mapping exercise’ of alternatives to privatization in an effort to establish conceptual and methodological foundations for future, more detailed studies. This preliminary research identified a wide range of alternatives in electricity, health, and water and sanitation in Asia, Africa and Latin America, allowing for comparisons across regions and sectors. We then constituted a typology and defined a set of criteria to evaluate the ‘success’ of these initiatives.

The results of this mapping exercise were published in the book Alternatives to privatization: Public options for essential services in the Global South that presents empirical data on public service initiatives in over 50 countries, and its methodology was further developed in subsequent research.


As part of this exercise we integrated a gendered perspective on the effects of privatization of essential services, as well as an analysis of women’s roles in building public alternatives, in all our research. Beyond initial questions of access and equity, we wanted to better understand the gendered implications of particular service delivery models. How, for example, should non-commercialized public service delivery be evaluated to ensure that the diverse voices and experiences of women are included? We released a first pilot study, Gender justice and public water for all: Insights from Dhaka, Bangladesh, and have been building on this research to 'engender' our analysis of public services more broadly.

Criteria, definitions and indicators

At the core of this methodology is a normative framework of 10 criteria that we see to be central to the evaluation of any public service. Not all services will excel at each criterion, and different sectors and places will be evaluated on their own local terms, but the criteria provided in the Table below offers a baseline of standards that we consider to be universally important and which allow for comparisons across place and time. These criteria are seen as a work-in-progress, however, with the aim of contributing to a more consistent and explicit global dialogue around the meaning of ‘success’ in a public service. We encourage others to use and adapt this framework as part of the research process. 

Normative category
Examples of possible
sub-criteria questions
Examples of possible
measurement indicators
Physical availability of the service at a convenient distance from user’s dwelling
·   Rural/urban divide?
·   Sufficient quantity?
·   Culturally acceptable service?
· Proportion of population with adequate access
· Time-distance to service location
· Hours/day that service is available
Prices that ensure economic accessibility for all
·   Are poorer households disproportionately burdened?
·   Are programs in place for cross-subsidy pricing?
·   Is affordability a legal obligation?
· Cost as percentage of household income
· Disconnection rates
· Levels of subsidization by region
Reliable, satisfactory services that create positive relations with end users
·   Safe for all users?
·   Responsive to user needs?
·   Ongoing improvement mechanisms in place?
· Primary health outcomes
· Level of service interruptions
· Complaints by region
Equality of opportunity to access quality services for all
·   Equitable quantity of service across user groups?
·   Equitable quality of service across user groups?
·   Is equity formalized, legalized or institutionalized?
· Budget allocations by region
· Levels of access by socially disadvantaged groups
· Per capita consumption by region
Ability to obtain the greatest benefit out of available resources to meet service mandates
·   Are current infrastructure investments helping to meet the social goals of the service?
·   Is the capital intensity of investments appropriate?
·   Do short-term cost reductions undermine long-term efficiency gains?
· Financing as a proportion of overall operating costs
· Cost per unit of service delivered by region
· Employee turnover rates
Environmental protection
Meeting current service mandates without compromising future resource needs or undermining cultural environmental norms
·   Are programs in place to reduce demand on natural resources?
·   Does the service provider respect different cultural understandings of resources?
·   Are climate change mitigation plans in place?
· Levels of renewable energy use
· Quality of wastewater treatment
· Rates of respiratory infection
Cohesion among various producer and user groups and across sectors that builds economic, social and political commitment to a public service model
·   Does the model help to build a stronger ‘public ethos’ around services?
·   Is the service contributing to improvements in other sectors and at other levels of service delivery?
·   Does the service model explicitly oppose privatization and commercialization, with sufficient political support?
· Formal cooperation agreements between different levels of government and sectors
· Measurements of inter-sectoral impacts (e.g. sanitation extension reducing diarrheal burden)?
· Legal mechanisms to prevent privatization
Obligation to account for activities, accept responsibility for them, and to disclose the results in a transparent manner, readily available to the public, and understandable.
· Are there clear operational mandates and policy positions?
· Are there transparent capital and operating budgets?
· Are mechanisms of accountability available at appropriate scales (local, national, regional)?
· Transparency of hiring processes
· Access to mechanisms of accountability by region
· % of documentation openly available and verifiable, in suitable languages and formats for all users
Citizen involvement in policy making and implementation of service delivery
· Is participation at appropriate scales and sufficiently representative?
· Are there adequate resources for participation by a diverse range of society (transportation, time off work, etc)?
· Is participation conducted in culturally appropriate ways?
· Number of people participating in formalized mechanisms of participation
· Number of different processes of participation open to participation (policy making, budget decisions, etc)
· Availability of participation by region
Quality of Workplace
A place of work that provides a safe environment, trust between employees and management, fairness, and a sensible workload that contributes to quality service delivery
· Are there adequate numbers of workers to ensure service quality?
· Are there mechanisms for workers/unions to participate in the operation, management or policy-making of the service?
· Are there good feedback loops between front-line workers, managers and end-users of the service?
· Pay equity (job type, gender, race, ethnicity, etc)
· Availability of health and safety equipment
· Access to training opportunities