Diana Mitlin from University of Manchester in this lecture argue that coproduction is an essential component of an inclusive urban agenda

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AUDIO: Diana Mitlin - Coproducing for sustainable cities


Issues which the lecture addresses

The SDGs are global recognition that the existing scale of neglect cannot continue. In 2015 an estimated 863 million people lived in informal settlements without adequate shelter and associated services. Improving the living conditions in informal settlements continues to be a global challenge. These informal settlements are characterised by insecure tenure and a lack of access to basic services (specifically water and sanitation), as well as inadequate quality of housing and overcrowding. This global challenge is immense.

Low-income groups do not just face material deprivation and being denied access to basic services. They are also frequently denied access to the services they need because of their low social status. This has multiple impacts. Many government agencies now recognize the value of participation and the significance of local ownership. However, their staff lack the tools and approaches needed to incorporate people in their planning and preparation. There are multiple examples of projects being poorly designed and executed. For example, water points may be put in the wrong location be dangerous to children to reach if busy roads have to be crossed and/or captured by powerful groups who make money from the sale of water, insufficient attention may be given to problems of low-water pressure, water kiosks may not open at the times at which it is convenient for users, and the prices charged may be unaffordable.

Faced with this situation, organized communities have found that developing an approach to scaling up community service delivery in which neighbourhood associations design interventions and then co-produce these basic services with the government is an effective modality.

Short analysis of the above issues

This lecture will look at the reasons why urban social movements are interested in coproduction. It goes beyond fears that this is a neo-liberal to analyse the ways in which citizen-led coproduction can be part of a progressive agenda. The lecture will show how citizen-led coproduction can be used by organized communities, in partnership with their local authorities, to address the problems identified in the one sentence summary above. Drawing on the outcomes of Shack/Slum Dwellers International and the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights, the lecture will summarise the outcomes of this approach to urban planning and project implementation.

Propositions for addressing the issue

  • Citizen-led coproduction has been shown to be effective in addressing deficiencies in infrastructure and services, and in addressing poverty.
  • Local residents can design interventions, and find ways to reduce costs.
  • Using city and national funds (partly capitalised by community savings) to provide access to subsidies and loans offers a way in which citizen-led coproduction can be scaled up.
  • Funds are attractive to women who are more likely to engage with savings than men; this enables a gendered approach to be built into the interventions.
  • Designs by low-income groups are more likely to be lower costs, and hence inclusive.
  • Multiple other benefits arise from effective partnerships including the strengthening of local community leadership


Diana Mitlin is managing director of the Global Development Institute at the University of Manchester (www.sed.manchester.ac.uk/research/gurc) and also holds an appointment at the International Institute for Environment and Development (www.iied.org). Her work focuses on urban poverty and inequality including urban poverty reduction programmes and the contribution of collective action by low-income and otherwise disadvantaged groups.

For the last 20 years, Diana has worked closely with Shack/Slum Dwellers International, a trans-national network of homeless and landless people’s federations and support NGOs; and with the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights, a network of civil society groups focussing on urban poverty and exclusion. She has recently co-authored (with David Satterthwaite): Urban Poverty in the Global South: Scale and Nature and Reducing Urban Poverty in the Global South.


Boonyabancha, S. and D. Mitlin (2012). “Urban poverty reduction: learning by doing in Asia.” Environment and Urbanization 24(2): 403-422.

Joshi, A. and M. Moore (2004). “Institutional co-production: Unorthodox public service delivery in challenging environments ” The Journal of Developing Studies 40(4): 31-49.

Mitlin, D. (2008). “With and beyond the state: coproduction as a route to political influence, power and transformation for grassroot organizations.” Environment and Urbanization 20(2): 339-360.

Satterthwaite, D. and D. Mitlin (2014). Reducing Urban Poverty in the Global South. London and New York, Routledge.

Watson, V. (2014). “Co-production and collaboration in planning – The difference.” Planning Theory and Practice 15(1): 62-76.

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