The University of Chicago Urban Labs and the Delhi government today launched the Urban Labs Innovation Challenge: Delhi, an effort to improve air and water quality in one of the world’s most polluted cities. The Challenge will involve crowdsourcing inventive ideas for confronting Delhi’s environmental challenges from citizens, civic leaders, academics, corporations, and other institutions across India.

The Challenge winner will receive up to $300,000 and work with the Urban Labs’ Energy & Environment Lab, the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago’s India Office (EPIC-India), and the Delhi government to pilot and test their idea. If the results are promising, the selected program could become a model for other cities in India and beyond.

“The deep challenges communities face are often best understood by the people on the ground,” said Michael Greenstone, the director of EPIC and the Urban Labs’ Energy & Environment Lab. “This Innovation Challenge taps those ideas, and relies on close collaboration between researchers and policymakers to make sure those novel ideas are also successful policies proven to work.”

The Chief Minister of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal said: “I am glad that Delhi Dialogue Commission has entered into first of its kind agreement with University of Chicago to find novel solutions to tackle pollution and environment related issues in Delhi.”

Ashish Khetan, Vice Chairman of the Delhi Dialogue Commission, said, “Thank you University of Chicago for reaching out to us with this proposal. We hope this collaboration becomes more productive year on year and we continue to benefit from the best academic minds at the university.”

The Delhi Challenge is the first of what Urban Labs hopes to be many international Innovation Challenges. Urban Labs recently announced the winners of a similar challenge in Chicago in October. The grants from that challenge will help the city identify, test and scale promising programs to help confront significant urban challenges in the public health, poverty, and energy and environment realms. One of the programs Urban Labs will pilot in Chicago will test whether insights from behavioral economics can improve energy efficiency and lower energy costs for low-income families.

“Testing the ideas in advance ensures not only that the policy is designed to work, but also that it can be effectively scaled up and implemented,” says Anant Sudarshan, executive director of EPIC-India. “We’re excited to be partnering with the Delhi government on this innovative approach to robust, evidence-based policymaking.”

The evidence-based policymaking approach has a record of success in India and beyond. In Gujarat, EPIC-India researchers worked with local officials to improve the environmental auditing system. Their pilot reforms reduced pollution by 28 percent and in January were officially adopted by the Gujarat government. In Chicago, a study of a youth violence prevention program called Becoming A Man (BAM)—initially studied after a similar crowdsourcing effort—found a 44 percent reduction in violent crime arrests. BAM has since been scaled and currently serves over 2,500 youth across the city.

To learn more about the Delhi Challenge and submit an idea, visit:

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.