Special Initiatives: Research

WIEGO 20th Anniversary Research Conference 

In its first two decades, WIEGO has been at the forefront of developing new concepts and methods for understanding and measuring the informal economy. To mark WIEGO’s 20th Anniversary, and to identify new paths for research and thinking on the informal economy, the WIEGO Network held a research conference at Harvard University in the USA in November 2018. Learn more about the Conference. | Read the presentations.

World Development Report 2013 on Jobs

For the World Development Report (WDR) 2013, which focused on “jobs”, WIEGO produced five cases studies and a synthesis report on representative voice and economic rights of informal workers. WIEGO’s International Coordinator, Marty Chen, was asked to conduct a peer review of the draft WDR 2013 and to take part in a panel discussion about the report.

Informal Economy Monitoring Study (IEMS)

In 2012, WIEGO led a 10-city study that examined how informal livelihoods are changing, how informal workers respond, and what institutions help or hinder their lives. Learn more about IEMS.

Agenda-Setting Research Conference

In March 2011, experts from around the world came together in Cape Town, South Africa to develop an agenda of research on the informal economy/informal employment that would build on, broaden and deepen existing research. The aim was to identify research questions that would expand research on informal employment to new topic areas and more regions of the world, both developing and developed. 

Speaker at Agenda-Setting Research Conference on the Informal EconomyOver the past decade, there has been a resurgence of interest in the informal economy as it continues to grow and to appear in new guises around the world. More institutions and individuals have begun to do research on the informal economy. Many of them begin by asking questions regarding the definition, composition, and causal explanation of the informal economy.

The WIEGO Network felt the time was ripe for collective thinking by a select group of established scholars from different disciplines, and with different perspectives on informality, to identify key questions, gaps, and puzzles regarding the informal economy for future research to address. WIEGO organized a two-day agenda-setting research conference in Cape Town, South Africa on March 24-25, 2011.

participants WIEGO conference
Sixty researchers from 17 countries took part in the conference, which focused on informality from different disciplines, countries, themes, and groups of workers. Panelists and participants reflected on recent trends and specified key unanswered questions and promising areas for future research. The aim was to identify a critical new agenda for the next generation of research on the informal economy.

To anchor this conference, WIEGO decided to focus on three countries: India, Mexico, and South Africa. WIEGO has worked closely in these countries with the producers of official statistics to improve labour force and other economic statistics; with data analysts and other researchers to analyze the official data; and with member-based organizations of informal workers to use the data and research findings in their advocacy efforts.

Also, in these countries WIEGO researchers, mainstream economists from (mainly) Cornell University, and organizers from the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) have held Exposure Dialogues, during which participants spent two days and nights with a working poor person and her family, working alongside them. Afterward, the participants discussed the fit (or lack thereof) between selected economic theories or policies and the reality of work observed during the exposure. Members of the Exposure Dialogue group were invited to the agenda-setting conference. The plan was that the research agenda coming out of the research conference would not be limited to India, Mexico and South Africa, but would be informed by and grounded in the in-depth knowledge of informality in these three countries.

Read the Conference Report, which contains a summary of the presentations and links.

Going Forward

The conference was a great success from all accounts, in part because the design called for reflections rather than presentations, and in part because participants were willing to reflect individually beforehand and collectively at the conference on a common set of questions and issues. The calibre of the participants and the quality of debate were  high, leading to an important set of questions and themes for future research.

The conference generated interest in further collaboration and in specific follow-up research projects. As well, ideas for future statistical analyses and related data collection emerged. The conference helped crystallize a research agenda around informality not only for WIEGO but for the broader group.