The University of Chicago Urban Labs and the Delhi Dialogue Commission today signed an agreement forming a first-of-its-kind partnership focused on improving air and water quality in Delhi.

The centerpiece of this partnership will be the Urban Labs Innovation Challenge: Delhi, set to launch in December. The competition will invite local organizations to propose programs for improving air and water quality and award funds to pilot and test the most promising ideas. The University of Chicago Urban Labs will provide up to 20 million rupees—more than $300,000—in grant funding and work with the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago’s India Office (EPIC-India) and the Delhi government to carry out and rigorously evaluate the winning projects that could then be scaled up across the region.

“We are pleased to partner with reputed University of Chicago Urban Labs to tackle the problem of pollution and environment degradation,” says Ashish Khetan, VC-Delhi Dialogue Commission.“With the technical and financial help from UChicago, Government of Delhi will open a challenge for all citizens of the country to come forward and pilot their ideas to solve major problem of pollution on a big scale. The Urban Labs Challenge is hopefully, a beginning of a long partnership that has the potential to transform Delhi.”

With this new collaboration, Delhi becomes the first international partner for the University of Chicago Urban Labs. Urban Labs uses Innovation Challenges—like the upcoming Delhi challenge—to crowdsource urban policy innovation and harness the best ideas of practitioners and policymakers in cities around the world. Urban Labs recently announced the winners of a similar Innovation Challenge in Chicago. The grants from that challenge—distributed to winners in the Health, Poverty, and Energy & Environment arenas—will help Chicago identify, evaluate and scale promising programs to help disadvantaged populations in the city.

In Delhi, researchers from the Energy & Environment Lab will work in close collaboration with Delhi officials to investigate ways to improve energy reliability and efficiency, while reducing environmental damages to public health and climate. They will be joined by EPIC-India, which manages a robust research portfolio and deep network of collaborations in India. For example, EPIC-India researchers previously worked with officials in Gujarat to improve the environmental auditing system. Their pilot reforms there reduced pollution by 28 percent and in January were officially adopted by the Gujarat government.

“Reducing waste burning, enhancing solar energy, and cutting back diesel combustion could all help clean Delhi’s air and there is a need to encourage innovative ideas that help achieve these goals,” says Anant Sudarshan, Executive Director of EPIC-India. “Partnerships like this one bring the power of analytical reasoning and empirical evidence to the policymaking process to ensure that our policies succeed in providing solutions to real-world problems.”

Michael Greenstone, the director of EPIC and the Urban Labs’ Energy and Environment Lab says: “Urbanization has been a driver of economic prosperity across the world. Yet cities like Delhi, that are engines of innovation and growth, are also the site of formidable energy and environment related challenges. This partnership combines city leadership with rigorous research and local insights to employ a unique approach to identifying, refining, testing, and scaling up new policy solutions proven to work.”

The Innovation Challenge in Delhi will be the third such competition announced by Urban Labs in the 2015 calendar year. Previous innovation grants in Chicago have gone to new therapy techniques to reduce youth violence, efforts to help the mentally ill successfully transition out of jail, a new curriculum focused on improving job training for the long-term unemployed, and the use of insights from behavioral economics to improve energy efficiency and lower costs for low-income families.

Areas of Focus: Environment
Producing and using energy damages people’s health and the environment. EPIC research is quantifying the social costs of energy choices and uncovering policies that help protect health while facilitating growth.