Improving the quality of clinical care in developing country settings is a difficult task, both in public sector settings where supervision is infrequent and in private sector settings where supervision and certification are non-existent. This study tested a low-cost method, self-assessment, for improving the quality of care that providers offer in a peri-urban area in Mali. The study was a cross-sectional, case-control study on the impact of self-assessment on compliance with the quality of care standards. The two indicators of interest were the compliance with fever care standards and the compliance with structural quality standards. Both standards were derived from the Ministry of Health of Mali's standards for health care delivery. The study examined 36 providers, 12 of whom were part of the intervention and 24 of whom were part of the control group over a 3 month period from May to July 2001. Overall, the research team found a significant difference between the intervention and control groups in terms of overall compliance (p < 0.001) and in terms of assessment of fever (p < 0.005). The total costs for the intervention for 36 providers was less than US$250, which translated to approximately $6 per provider. The data appear to suggest that self-assessment, when used in a regular fashion, can have a significant effect on compliance with standards. However, it is clear that self-assessment is not a resource-neutral intervention. All of the individuals from the intervention pool interviewed cited the extra work that they had to do to comply with the intervention protocol as a burden. In particular, study participants put an emphasis on the 'long duration' of the study that 'discouraged' the study participants. Future research on self-assessment should include a larger sample of providers and should examine the impact of self-assessment over time.