Evaluation of Urban Sustainability in Municipal Cash Transfer Programs using Digital Local Currency - a University of Glasgow Centre for International Development (GCID) Small Grant-funded project

Context and rationale

Cash Transfer Programs (CTPs) are public policies based on the direct transfer payment of money to a target population to address income inequality. Some of these programmes, instead of paying the benefits in cash, adopt a "local currency" that is only accepted by local shops and service providers, with the goal of boosting the local economy. As these local currencies are increasingly operated in digital platforms (e.g., with mobile phone apps), the transaction data generated by the exchanges of local currencies are an innovative source of digital footprints for new "smart data" studies.  

Using this idea, CityCashTransfer explores the usage of transactions data from local digital currencies to undertake an interdisciplinary pilot study on municipal CTPs in Brazil to understand their contributions to climate and economic development agendas. Multiple studies have pointed to the positive impact of CTPs on fighting poverty (Bastagli et al., 2019), improving health conditions (Rasella et al, 2021), formal education (de Brauw et al., 2015) and reducing crime rates (Chioda et al., 2015). While CTPs used to be applied by the national government, more recently CTPs administered by municipal governments spread rapidly due to positive experiences to address hardships during the COVID-19 lockdowns. These municipal initiatives represent a new generation of CTPs, characterised by the leading role of municipal government and the double focus on fighting inequalities and fostering local economies. However, despite the growing adoption of municipal CTPs, in particular those using local currencies, the evidence base of their impact is currently limited. Although there is little doubt regarding their positive impact on the local economy (Malmaeus et al., 2020), little is known about their contribution to the broader climate and environmental agendas.

CityCashTransfer will leverage the potential of transaction data from digital local currencies, which have not been explored in existing research. Local digital currency transaction data enables spatially fine-grained analysis and novel ways to understand CTPs’ contributions to municipal climate and urban policies. The digital footprints of these transactions could offer important insights on the specific locations where the local currency was spent, and thus, the purpose of the transaction (e.g. healthcare, food, etc.), This insight, in turn, can be used to analyse variations in the impact of the CTPs across a city’s neighbourhoods. While previous studies on local CTPs have focused on health (Johnson et al., 2022) and employment (Marshall et al., 2022), broader impacts across the territory are yet to be explored comparatively and systematically.


CityCashTransfer investigates innovative use cases of CTPs in Brazil. To develop an insight into the extent of the municipally applied CTPs, the project will develop a novel methodology to map and evaluate the flow of digital local currencies across the urban territory, and their effects on climate, health, socio-economic, and environmental variables.

This nine-month pilot study is conducted by a multidisciplinary team from the University of Glasgow (UK), the Fundação Getulio Vargas (Brazil), and the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte (Brazil), comprised of experts in urban analytics, public health, information systems, urban geography, and demography.


This research engages first-hand with local governments and civil society stakeholders with the aim of co-creating a proposal for a larger collaborative follow-on study of the effects of CTPs. Studying CTPs has a direct impact on vulnerable populations in regions with high levels of inequality and provides an opportunity for people from diversified background to participate in project activities and shape the research agenda.

PI: Professor João Porto de Albuquerque

University of Glasgow Co-Investigators:

Dr Philipp Ulbrich, Urban Big Data Centre
Professor Peter Craig, Institute for Health and Wellbeing, University of Glasgow
Dr Marcia Gibson, Institute for Health and Wellbeing, University of Glasgow

Researchers and collaborators:

Professor Eduardo H. Diniz, Fundação Getulio Vargas
Dr Erica S. Siqueira, Fundação Getulio Vargas
João Akio Yamaguchi, Fundação Getulio Vargas
Dr Jarvis Campos, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte
Dr Mozart Fazito, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte
Dr Marcos Roberto Gonzaga, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte
Dr Luana Junqueira Dias Myrrha, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte
Dr Jordana Cristina de Jesus, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte
Joaquim Melo, Instituto E-Dinheiro
Danilo Pitarello Codemar SA -Maricá Company of Development
Diego Maggi, IDR – Instituto Darcy Ribeiro (Maricá)
Elton Teixeira da Silva, Secretary for Solidarity Economy, City Hall of Niterói
Marcos Rodrigo Ferreira, Preventório Community Bank (Niterói)

Jointly funded by