Institutions for urban poor’s access to ecosystem services: a comparison of green and water structures in Bangladesh and Tanzania

Arguments for developing strong local institutions addressing the everyday struggles of poorer citizens consistently appear in academic and policy documents. However, this argument is yet to fully incorporate the access to ecosystem services by poor urban people.

To be effective, local institutions must incorporate local practices, represent local needs, and link with state action through the realm of politics (Krishna, 2003). The contemporary literature identifies coproduction and collective action as two key building blocks for strong institutions. Combinations of coproduction and collective action are a potentially attractive institutional approach for the urban poor to have better access to ecosystem services.
The main objective of the research is to identify a set of policy-relevant design principles that distinguish the institutional arrangements needed for producing and distributing ecosystem services to promote sustainable improvements in the wellbeing of the urban poor. It will seek to answer an overarching and three secondary research questions.

  • What institutional frameworks enable low-income people in urban areas to improve their wellbeing through better access to services and prevention of disservices from urban green and water ecosystems?
  • What fundamental urban green and water ecosystem services do dwellers in low-income settlements have access to and/or disservices they are exposed to, compared to their multi-dimensional needs, and the functions of the ecosystem in question?
  • What are the institutional modalities by which poor urban people are included or excluded from having access to these services and protected or exposed to disservices? 
  • How have the institutional arrangements evolved, in terms of the analytical lenses of collective action and/or coproduction? What are the corresponding impacts on ecosystem-urban poverty linkages?

This project is led by Professor David Hulme, Dr Manoj Roy, Professor Clive Agnew and Dr James Rothwell. It is funded by EcoSystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA). The project is run in collaboration with BRAC University Dhaka and Ardhi University, Dar es Salaam.

Key academic publications


  • Risk mitigation is crucial but tipping points may be identified
  • Reduce risk to manageable levels to foster collective action
  • Better results can be expected in lower risk/greater opportunity contexts
  • Effective collective action is possible (Hanna Nassif and Gabtoli) but models that reduce risk of early collective action failure must be pursued.
  • Safeguarding the last 100 yards of potable water provisioning is needed


  • Manoj Roy (Principle Investigator) has made several high profile presentations
  • Impact partners from Bangladesh, India and Tanzania have contributed at the International level through their attendance and contribution to: (a) EcoPoor International Workshop, 18-20 January 2016; (b) Research and collaboration meeting at Lancaster University (including meeting up with the Deputy VC Internalization), 21st January 2016; and (c) ESPA Building Impact and Research Partnerships in South Asia (9-10 March 2016) and Africa (15-16 March 2016).

Additional materials