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The ICTD recently launched the African Property Tax Initiative (APTI) with funding support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Initiative is based on the understanding that property taxation, which is generally among the best revenue sources for sub-national governments, remains highly underused in many parts of the world, including in Africa. APTI’s main objective, therefore, is to stimulate and encourage wider use of more effective property tax systems in Africa. Key to this mission is supporting high quality policy-relevant research and disseminating it effectively among tax practitioners, policymakers and researchers.

The Gates Foundation has initially provided support for two years: 2017-2018. For this period, the APTI Management Committee has adopted a focus on four priority themes:

  1. The use of information and communication technology in property tax collection
  2. Deepening understanding of diverse approaches to property valuation
  3. The relationship between local and central governments in property tax administration
  4. Linking property taxation to public services and accountability

APTI is now accepting high quality research proposals to address any of the priority themes 
or a combination of them, with a focus on research that can support APTI, partner experts and governments in strengthening property tax systems on the continent. We particularly welcome proposals that specifically promote cooperation with researchers based in Africa, and/or involve close engagement with revenue authorities and relevant public sector agencies.

Ideally, proposals will aim to draw best practices and lessons from one country that can be applied to others with comparable models and similar challenges, or propose innovative ways to effectively address policy and implementation challenges related to property taxation. 

Each research project is expected to result in outputs that can be communicated directly to policymakers and other interested stakeholders, both through ICTD and other channels. In most circumstances, we will expect to receive a paper that will go through a peer review process and then be published as an ICTD Working Paper. We also welcome policy briefs, blogs, newspaper articles, media appearances, and face-to-face communication with policymakers. We believe that communicating the results of research is as important as doing good research.

Anyone with a research idea is invited to contact APTI by May 24, 2017 with an outline proposal. Ideally, the outline proposal should be about 750 words and clearly outline research work to be delivered within a period not exceeding 16 months. It should minimally do the following:

  • Identify and explain a clear central question, or set of related central questions;
  • State what is currently known about the issue from existing studies;
  • Indicate how the question(s) would be persuasively answered, including how the necessary evidence (data or information) will be accessed;
  • Describe the timeline for the research, and expected outputs or deliverables; and
  • Provide an indicative budget for the research, divided into key budget headings.

After an initial review, researchers may be invited to submit full proposals of 7-10 pages, that more fully develop the description of the research methods, in order to establish a clear plan for delivering expected outcomes of the project. Full proposals will be appraised – and if necessary sent for external review – by the APTI Management Committee.

Note that in evaluating full research proposals, several key criteria will be considered:

  • Question(s): Is there a clear, policy-relevant, practically important and answerable central question – or core of questions?
  • Background: Does the proposal demonstrate a clear understanding of existing knowledge, and make a contribution to expanding that knowledge?
  • Methods: Is there a clear methodology for answering the question(s) in a convincing and rigorous way?
  • Data: What data will be needed to answer the question, and is it clear that the applicants have the means to access or collect this information/data? This might include relevant partners and professional contacts for facilitating the research.
  • Tools: What analytical, statistical or other tools are needed to convert this information/data into answers to the core question, and do the researchers have the requisite skills?
  • Deliverables: What deliverables will be provided by the project, and will they maximize the overall impact of the work?
  • Timescale: Is the timeline for the project realistic, and can we be confident that an initial draft will be completed by July 2018, and a final paper by September 2018?
  • Value for money: Does the budget seem appropriate (e.g. reasonable charges for travel, sample analysis, etc.)?

The total budget available for this call is about US$100,000, to be divided across several research projects, with the possibility of making some additional funds available in the case of exceptional applications. We may be willing to make small grants to help applicants develop research proposals. The ICTD is willing to cover normal and reasonable salaries for researchers who are interested in issues of property taxation. We do not pay consultancy rates.

Also note that the ICTD typically provides professional advice and support to applicants in developing research proposals, implementing research and disseminating findings.

Please submit any queries and research outlines relating to this call to APTI Project Leader, Nyah Zebong [email protected], and copy in both Simon Rees [email protected] and Wilson Prichard [email protected] While early applications are strongly encouraged, late applications will be accepted on a rolling basis, if funds remain available.

Background Information on the Four Priority Themes

1. Strengthening the use of information and communication technology for property tax collection

It is widely agreed that information and communication technology (ICTs) has the potential to play a critical role in strengthening property tax collection. There is also agreement that existing ICT solutions are often fragmented and ineffective, owing to poorly conceived design and weak implementation. The proposed research under this theme would specifically seek, in addition to general goals [supra] to: (a) understand what types of software initiatives and experiences are currently underway; (b) identify and understand successful examples at the levels of policy, design and implementation; and (c) develop insights into effective practices or experiments occurring in different contexts.

2. Deepening understanding of diverse approaches to property valuation

The literature on property taxation has long focused on the rationale for property taxation and optimal approaches to valuation. However, much of this discussion has remained one step removed from the complex realities of African countries. Proposed research on this theme aims to localize discussions of valuation, and translate existing knowledge into practical proposals. Successful proposals might, for example:
• provide a framework for thinking about approaches to valuation across different contexts;
• translate normative debates about property taxation to local contexts (Why property tax? What is it meant to fund? How to navigate alternative land regimes?);
• examine institutional and historical barriers to more effective property valuation;
• identify and discuss the complex realities of valuation as it occurs in practice; and
• explore and document diverse models of relatively successful valuation efforts.

3. The relationship between local and central governments in property tax administration

The roles of local and central government in property tax collection in Africa has quickly become a major policy question in many countries, with discussions ongoing in many Anglophone countries on whether to increase the role of central revenue authorities in property tax collection. Yet, these discussions are often not supported by systematic research. Proposed research on this theme would:
• source and report new evidence and insight into this debate;
• identify more specific theoretical and practical challenges drawn from existing country experiences;
• elaborate potentially different modes of cooperation – and healthy competition – that central and local governments could adopt, as they work to optimize the effectiveness of the property tax.

Proposals with real prospects for contributing to policy dialogue and practical implementation options/guides across Africa would be especially welcome.

4. Linking property taxation to public services and accountability
International and domestic attention to property taxation has been stimulated by the revenue potential of property taxation; the ease with which it can be linked to improved public services; and its promise to spur state-society engagement, if designed and implemented effectively. However, anecdotal evidence suggests very mixed experiences, with property taxation being clearly linked to improved services in some cases, and much less so in other cases. The proposed research would contribute to this debate by providing fact-based evidence about the extent of such links; how they are constructed, and might be improved.