Promoting Inclusive Governance for Informal Workers in Cali, Colombia
Principal Investigator:

Lina Martínez, Universidad Icesi, Cali – Colombia


Centre for Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities and Neighbourhoods (Graeme Young), United Kingdom

Local government of Cali, Colombia

Fundación WWB Colombia


This project sought to establish a sustainable policymaking process that would allow informal street vendors to play a meaningful role in shaping the policies that impact their livelihoods in Cali, Colombia. To achieve this, the researchers conducted a major survey of the experiences of street vendors in the city of Cali during the COVID-19 pandemic to further understand their socioeconomic circumstances, experiences of governance and policy views; worked with street vendor organisations to publish policy proposals; and held a meeting with civil society representatives to discuss the project and a workshop about informal work and public policy.

Street vending serves as a major livelihood activity in cities in the Global South. Like other forms of informal work, however, it is defined by significant forms of exclusion and inequality. The project is based on the premise that economic inclusion must rest on political inclusion, a principle that can have profound implications for how cities are governed and how they can be made more equal. By seeking to put this into practice, it builds on SHLC work by highlighting how urban development that rests on sustainability and equality must recognise the connection between political and economic empowerment.

Streetside plantain vendor, Colombia. Credit: Flickr Adam Cohn
Streetside plantain vendor, Colombia. Credit: Flickr Adam Cohn


The original objectives are reproduced here with details about how these were met.

Objective 1: To allow street vendors, government officials and civil society groups to participate in an inclusive governance process that is sustainable beyond the initial funding period.

While the team had to make significant challenges to their original plans, they still sought to achieve this goal through: (1) conducting a major survey of street vendors that can inform policymaking; (2) collecting and analysing policy proposals from street vendors’ organisations; (3) communicating the outcomes of the project with vendors’ organisations and in a planned meeting with government officials, NGOs, and academics; (4) organising a workshop on informal work and public policy to bring together researchers and practitioners from a variety of different contexts; and (5) producing a variety of outputs to share the project findings.

Work remains to be done to ensure that street vendors in Cali are included in a participatory policymaking process that is sustainable. It is hoped that the conditions in which this can occur will return soon with the COVID-19 pandemic abating and governments having more capacity and willingness to engage, especially if there is a desire to ensure that recovery from the pandemic is just and inclusive. The researchers hope to secure future funding with international funders, research grants, and local initiatives to allow us to continue this work and expand it beyond Cali as the team believes that its potential value is significant. They are currently considering applying for funding from the University of Glasgow’s ESRC Impact Acceleration Account, possibly from the Follow-on Fund, which would provide up to £10,000 for a project that would allow them to undertake knowledge exchange activities based on this CDAF work.

Objective 2: To mobilise the extensive knowledge of the applicants on the governance of urban informality to have a practical policy impact.

This project has built significantly on the combined expertise on street vending in Cali, informality, and urban policy and governance, which has informed and been furthered by designing and undertaking the activities and producing the outputs. The potential impact of the work is discussed below.

Objective 3: To aid in capacity building for participants.

The project contributed significantly to capacity building for the researchers involved. This is explored in greater detail below.

Objective 4: To consider how similar processes can be replicated in cities in the Global South.

This is a primary focus of the current project activities as outlined below, and will be explored further in an upcoming report and a forthcoming policy brief. The researchers also plan to expand on this further by applying for additional funding to build on their project.

Contributions to challenges in low and middle-income countries (LMICs)

The informal economy plays a significant role in economic and social life in cities in the global south. In Latin America, it was estimated that the informal sector employed almost half of the working age population. The pandemic aggravated this condition and the informal sector may significantly increase as a consequence of the economic contraction it caused. Generally speaking, national and local governments in Latin America know little about the living conditions of informal workers and there is a lack of political inclusion for people in this sector. The project made contributions on three different fronts:

Activities to give voice to informal workers:
  • Through the survey, collecting information from 750 street vendors that is valuable for understanding their struggles and more urgent needs during the pandemic.
  • Creating an inventory of policy proposals, coming from informal workers’ organisations, to create a path for implementing programmes tailored to fit the most urgent needs of street vendors.
  • Creating a web page with complete information about the project, and with visual content in which street vendors express their main concerns and paths to access public interventions.
  • Four open forums to listen and exchange ideas and information.
Activities to provide evidence for a better policy making
  • Creating a catalogue of proposals with a policy analysis for programme implementation.
  • Providing updated information about the living conditions of street vendors during the pandemic through the survey.
  • Collecting data about political participation and views of street vendors through the survey.
  • Holding a forum to present results and policy recommendations.
  • Organising a final project workshop on informal work and public policy.
Activities contributing to the research of the informal economy in the global south
  • Providing open data with the information from the survey in Cali to promote comparative analysis.
  • Working to produce three academic publications (see below).
  • Working to produce two reports and three policy briefs (discussed below).
  • Writing two blogs (discussed below).


As explored in a paper that is being prepared for submission to the October 2022 issue of Environment and Urbanisation, the survey highlights the socioeconomic conditions of street vendors during the COVID-19 pandemic and provides important insights into their policy views and experiences of governance. It particularly highlights the significant livelihood constraints that street vendors experienced during the pandemic, their limited access to public services, and what programmes they believe the government should focus on. There is significant potential for this to inform policymaking as it highlights both issues that government officials should focus on solving and what, exactly, vendors would prioritise most. While this article remains to be published, data from this survey has been published in a second article in Data in Brief and a dataset can be accessed on Mendeley. The proposals that were gathered from vendors’ organisations provide further insights into the desires of these groups and, with the analysis from the team, how these might be translated into policy. This could provide an extremely useful tool for future policy discussions.

At the time of this report writing, the project activities have only recently been concluded and some of the publications are still forthcoming, so it is difficult to assess what the full impact of the project might be. The ultimate objective remains that a participatory policy process that can be sustained beyond the life of the project can be established, although given the changes that the team made to the project in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, there remains much work to be done here. What they have done, however, provides a very useful platform for this to occur that builds on the extensive experiences and connections of the lead applicant. The project has led to the development of a detailed understanding of the challenges faced by street vendors during the COVID-19 pandemic and highlighted possible policy directions that the government can pursue, an important basis for future policy discussions. The next step is to ensure that vendors are meaningfully included in policy processes and can have an impact on the decisions that shape their lives and livelihoods. This is what the team will continue to pursue through future funding, both in Cali and in other cities in the Global South. They will ultimately assess the impact of the work by judging the apparent success of any participatory policy process that it leads to. This could most effectively be measured by demonstrating that such a process has led to concrete benefits for those involved in it and/or for street vendors, or even other marginalized urban groups or city residents, more generally.

Project Outputs

The team sought to follow the output plan outlined in their original application, although some changes were made in response to adaptations to the project as it evolved. Full references for outputs are provided in the final point below.

  1. Sustainable Participatory Policy Engagement Process in Cali

Through the project the team has used a platform to promote communication between street vendors and the local government, and to feed stakeholders with data, reports, and a policy proposals inventory. This is a stepping stone to promote political inclusion in key policy decisions regarding budget allocation for street vendors in the city. The information gathered in the project facilitates participation in inclusive policies for this population group.

  1. Policy Initiative Impact Report

Based on discussions with street vendors’ organisations, the project created a policy inventory of programmes proposed by street vendors to be implemented by the local government:

The report presents eight initiatives ranging from relocation in public space to access to health and education programs. The team has organised the initiatives and provided a policy analysis with costs, feasibility, and equity criteria to facilitate the policymaking process.

An English translation of this report has now been prepared and will soon be published.  Full reference details will be provided when it is available.

  1. Workshop Impact Report with ‘Best Practice’ Guide

Due to changes in the project, this report focuses on how to establish engagement processes to promote inclusion for informal workers. It is currently being written and will be made available on this site in the near future.

  1. Academic Articles

The focus of the first article produced was changed to analyse the results of the survey. A draft is complete, and it will be submitted to Environment and Urbanisation for an October 2022 issue on urban inequalities. An article summarizing the data from the survey has been published in Data in Brief.

The final article is in progress and will still focus on theoretical issues surrounding political and economic inclusion, building on work presented at this year’s European Consortium for Political Research General Conference and will be submitted to a Special Issue of the journal Land on COVID-19 and urban food security and there is interest in a submission from this project.

  1. Blogs and Newspaper Articles

Two blog posts about the project have been written and will be published on the SHLC blog.

Two newspapers articles were published in the major newspaper in the city using information from the project:

Half of Cali’s informal workers are unemployed amid the pandemic

Half of Caleños who work do so informally

  1. Policy Briefs

Two policy briefs have already been written, disseminated, and discussed with street vendors.

The first policy brief focuses on the social and economic consequences of the pandemic. The second policy brief refers to street vendors’ physical and mental health after the pandemic. The forthcoming third policy brief will also address important issues that accompany establishing processes to include informal workers in policymaking.

  1. Additional Activities
  • Web site creation
  • Three meetings with informal workers, one meeting with local government officials, and other relevant stakeholders.
  • Final forum held on November 4, 2021 attended by representatives of two civil society organisations in Cali at which the results of the project were discussed. While local political officials were invited, they did not ultimately attend, illustrating ongoing challenges in building sustained policy engagement activities. The team will continue to seek further engagement activities with local government as they plan further activities that build on this project.
  • Workshop on Informal Work and Public Policy held on November 18, 2021 and organised with SHLC. Graeme Young delivered a presentation on the project entitled “Promoting Inclusive Governance for Informal Workers in Cali, Colombia” as part of a broader presentation about SHLC and CDAF. Seven other speakers gave five presentations on their academic or civil society work on informality in a variety of national and international contexts. The workshop had approximately 15 attendees.
  • Two reports with partners (explained in point 7 above).
  • One large report in partnership with Chamber of commerce and Fundación WWB Colombia (explained in point 7 above).
Output References

Martínez, Lina, Graeme Young, Valeria Trofimoff, Isabella Valencia, Nicolas Vidal, Andres David Espada and Esteban Robles. “Socioeconomic conditions of informal workers during the pandemic in Cali, Colombia.” Mendeley Data, V1, 2021, doi: 10.17632/w5x3dp8t4z.1

Martínez, Lina, Grame Young, Valeria Trofimoff, Isabella Valencia, Nicolás Vidal, Andrés David Espada and Esteban Robles. “The Hardships of the Poorest During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Data About the Socioeconomic Conditions and Governance of Informal Workers.” Data in Brief 40 (2022).

POLIS. Vendedores informales en el espacio público durante la postpandemia. Datos en Breve No. 38, 2021. Available at:

POLIS. Los vendedores informales no sólo han visto afectados sus ingresos, también su salud. Datos en Breve No. 41, 2021. Available at:

POLIS. Intervenciones para trabajadores informales en el espacio público: Una construcción colectiva para atender un problema olvidado. Datos en Breve No. 42, 2021. Available at:

POLIS  Creando Puentes Entre los Vendadores Informales y el Sector Público. Available at:

Local Involvement

During the project the team created a strong relationship with street vendors and leaders of organisations of informal workers in the city. The most relevant example of this relationship was the collection of the survey. There are no public records for contacting street vendors and given the impediments of conducting face-to-face interviews in public spaces, the most viable mechanism was phone interviews. Thanks to the relationship and the participation of street vendors during this project the team was able to survey 750 street sellers. Likewise, through different meetings they have been able to create an inventory of policy proposals representing the desires of street vendors.

City administrators have also provided support during the project. They actively participated in a meeting organised by the research team and promptly provided information requested for the project such as official records of street vendors in the city. As indicated above, while city administrators did not ultimately participate in the final forum we organised, the team will continue to seek to find opportunities for engagement as they build on this project.

Other relevant stakeholders such as local news stations (radio and newspapers), NGOs, and the chamber of commerce have been actively involved in the project.

Diario el País, the most important newspaper in the city, published front-page news about the informal economy in Cali using data from the project.

Fundación WWB Colombia is the largest NGO in the region working towards the improvement of the quality of life of informal workers. Thanks to this project and their involvement, the team jointly created two additional reports about informal workers in Cali during the pandemic:

Plan reactívate Mecanismos para la recuperación económica

Paro Nacional Colombia la necesidad de una agenda pública enfocada en la economía informal en la ciudad de Cali

Likewise, in collaboration with the chamber of commerce and Fundación WWB Colombia, the team is creating an extensive report about the informal economy in the city. The report will be released in summer 2022.

With those actions, the researchers are promoting the use of the information and the dialogue platform created in this project to foster the involvement of key stakeholders in the city.

Future Activities

It is hoped that further opportunities for collaboration will emerge from the project activities, first to work with the local government or other relevant public bodies to continue to build a participatory policymaking process that ensures the inclusion of informal workers, and second to build international ties to engage in knowledge exchange and possibly collaborate on future work. Likewise, the partnerships created with the chamber of commerce and Fundación WWB Colombia helps to build a larger network to continue this work locally.

The project plan, as stated in the original application, has always been to apply for further funding to continue this work. The ultimate objective is to establish sustainable participatory processes in which informal workers can participate in governance in cities across the Global South; given the extent to which the team altered the project activities as the project unfolded, continuing to work to establish the participatory process that has been the ultimate objective in Cali is also of paramount importance. 

Capacity Strengthening

New forms of co-operation:

Researchers: The PI and Co-I involved in this project, both of whom are early career researchers, benefited from being able to develop their understanding of street vending and public policy; being able to design and carry out a project of this nature and scale; and being able to establish or further strengthen existing networks. The project also included six younger researchers playing vital roles as research assistants, giving them valuable experience in conducting this type of work that should aid in their skills development.

Within street vendors’ organisations: The project helped to create a policy inventory of programmes proposed by street vendors to be implemented by the local government. This outcome helped street vendors to organise their demand to the local government and helped to create new co-operations amongst the street vendors’ organisations and informal workers who participated in the process.

Academia – local government: The project provided a new channel for collaboration between academia and the local government to improve the quality of evidence for decision making.

Academia – NGOs and private sector: New collaboration emerged as a consequence of the project between academia and relevant stakeholders.

Street vendors – government: It is hoped that the project activities and outputs will serve as a catalyst for policy inclusion for street vendors, something that the team hopes to build on in the future.