What would it take to scale urban innovation in Latin America?


Five cities across Latin America needed help assessing the early outcomes of their innovation programs, to promote continuous learning and understand better what might work at scale. The programs varied in sector – agriculture, financial inclusion, urban development, education, and health – as well as size – from 160 farmers supported in São Paulo to 22,000+ users of Bancuadra’s microcredits in Medellín. Different quantitative methods were deployed to measure the effectiveness of the projects, and results were used to build momentum and scalability.

Product Features

Since 2017, DA has been supporting five cities in Latin America to develop and sustain urban innovative projects in a range of sectors:

  • São Paulo, Brazil: technical and technological support to family farmers to raise income and control urban sprawl; 
  • Santiago, Chile: school-based health promotion program to decrease childhood obesity rates;
  • Medellín, Colombia: community-based loans and financial education to reduce illegal lending and promote financial inclusion;
  • Bogotá, Colombia: walking caravans to make kids' commutes to school safer;
  • Guadalajara, Mexico: online platform to increase transparency of land use and expedite license application processing times.

Our support has focused on helping the teams build skills to define performance indicators and targets, prioritize actions, solve problems early, and drive results. In 2019, after two years of design and implementation, measuring progress of the urban innovations turned out to be a key component in guaranteeing the project's sustainability and effective use of public resources. DA helped the cities design quantitative analyses (developed by independent evaluators) to assess the outcomes of each project.

Real-world challenges

Since the projects are innovative, there was by definition a lack of previous data and evidence regarding their impact. Initially, the city teams relied on users' perceptions and small-scale data collected in the field to improve design and solve implementation challenges. 

However, a more robust evaluation was needed to answer key questions related to projects' effectiveness and user outcomes, and provide compelling evidence in favor of the long-term sustainability of these projects.

Kids answer survey questions during evaluation of the walking caravans project in Bogotá, Colombia.
Real-world solutions

We worked closely with the city teams to design practical evaluations to quantify early outcomes within each project and inform decision-making. By leveraging the expertise of local partners to execute the evaluation, we were able to focus on designing the evaluation strategy, recommending the best evaluation method, supporting operationalization in the field, and converting results into actionable recommendations.

We have considered local context, timing, and specific research questions for each project to propose a suitable quantitative analysis:

  • São Paulo: This quasi-experimental approach revealed a 58% increase in participants’ adoption of sustainable agricultural practices.
  • Santiago: One of the world’s largest interventions in childhood obesity, this randomized controlled trial with more than 2,000 students prevented two pounds of weight gain among participants. 
  • Medellín: More than 600 users of the microcredit project were part of the propensity-score matching analysis, which showed a 58% decrease in the use of illegal loans with Bancuadra.
  • Bogotá: An evaluation surveyed more than 400 participants of the walking caravan project; results demonstrated a 7% increase in kids’ safety perception after participating in the project.
  • Guadalajara: Before-and-after surveys found a 74% reduction in corruption practices with the use of the urban licenses platform.
These findings are like gold to us.
-Liliana Galeano, director of Bancuadra, Secretariat of Economic Development in Medellín

Quantifying the results of the innovation projects was key to identifying drivers for success and opportunities for design improvement, and building momentum and scalability of the projects in many ways:

Replication: Early testing of Guadalajara’s model allowed the city to immediately adjust its methodology and confidently expand the project. The State of Jalisco is replicating Visor Urbano in 20+ cities in Mexico.

Optimization: Bogotá was able to quickly fine-tune the walking caravans' operation and training methodology after adopting learnings from the evaluation. Walking caravans are now a permanent city service.

Scaling up: With the evaluation results, Medellín was able to guarantee resources and expand the microcredit project to reach new vulnerable groups, such as women victims of violence and farmers. The results helped increase legitimacy and political buy-in. See video here.

According to Liliana Galeano, director of Bancuadra, Secretariat of Economic Development in Medellín, "These findings are like gold to us. When we started this initiative we didn’t have that data with a good study behind it. Now, we know where to focus."

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What would it take to scale urban innovation in Latin America?
What would it take to scale urban innovation in Latin America?

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