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Integrating data and information management for social protection: social registries and integrated beneficiary registries

Author: Valentina Barca

Executive summary

Given the ever-increasing focus on coordinating and harmonising social protection programs, aiming for a systems approach, countries have been exploring new ways to integrate data and better handle information, to ensure that the right people are receiving the right transfer amounts at the right time. This report attempts to address recent evolutions in this fast-paced field – including shifts in terminology and innovative best practice – and provides practical guidance for policymakers and practitioners grappling with the issue. The findings are based on a literature review of academic and grey literature on the topic; on extensive interviews and discussions with key informants; and on five in-depth case studies (Brazil, Chile, Indonesia, Kenya and Turkey). It updates the seminal publication on this topic (Barca and Chirchir, 2014).

The main findings include the following:

  • Developing a social protection information system – one that enables the flow and management of information within the social protection sector and sometimes beyond – can ensure a more equitable, responsive and inclusive distribution of resources while also increasing efficiency and effectiveness of delivery and, most importantly, better serving citizens (see Section 1 [PDF 1.1 MB]).
  • However, several trade-offs, challenges and risks can emerge when embarking on such a process – which need to be carefully managed and addressed from the outset. These can include increasing costs and complexity, risks to data privacy and security, and risks of multiple exclusion from all social sector schemes.
  • Moreover, the extent to which the benefits of information integration are felt greatly depends on the practical set-up for integration and on the ultimate use and quality of the integrated system (See Section 2 [PDF 617 KB]).
  • These opportunities and challenges are determined by country-specific objectives, as well as institutional, operational and technological considerations, which in turn determine the specific approach to integration. Depending on these, international best practice may not be appropriate in every instance. In fact, integrating data and information may not always be a social protection policy priority.
  • Two main (and overlapping) approaches to setting up an integrated data repository for the social protection sector can be adopted by countries: integrated beneficiary registries (integrate information from existing program management information systems (MISs) to house comprehensive information on beneficiaries); and social registries (centralise collection and housing of data on potential beneficiaries to integrate the approach to registration and eligibility determination). Social registries can also be operationalised as 'virtual' social registries (collect data by ensuring interoperability of existing administrative databases through web service access). (See 2.3 and 2.4 in Section 2 [PDF 617 KB].)
  • Each of these approaches has advantages and disadvantages, and can help to achieve different objectives of integration depending on their ultimate set-up. These are summarized in the table below.
    Table: What type of integration can be achieved? Comparing social registries and integrated beneficiary registries
    Social registries Integrated beneficiary registries
    M&E and overview of beneficiaries across programs Only if registry receives data from program MISs Yes
    Integrated process for eligibility determination across programs Yes No (eligibility is determined at program level, then integrated)
    Integrating operations and services across existing programs Only if registry receives data from program MISs Yes (if pursued as policy objective)
    Integrating policy across social protection sector Only if registry is linked to all social assistance programs, social insurance etc. Only if registry is linked to all social assistance programs, social insurance etc.
    Integration with other sector MISs Only if application software enables this Only if application software enables this
  • No matter which approach to setting up the data repository is selected, its full potential as an information system is only unleashed when it is used together with a software application that links it dynamically to other databases, systematically transforms data into information, and analyses and uses the information. For example, a system that guarantees full integration within the social protection sector and beyond, in accordance with the right to privacy, would establish a direct (web service) link – e.g. using each citizen's national ID number as a unique identifier – to (a) all social assistance program MISs; (b) social insurance MISs; (c) any other relevant government MIS (See 2.5 in Section 2 [PDF 617 KB]).
  • An ever-increasing number of low- and middle-income countries is embarking on this process of integration, with different forms of social protection information systems already fully institutionalised in 30 low- and middle-income countries worldwide. Many of these are set up as social registries. An additional 31 countries are in the process of developing such systems. These integrated systems range greatly in their set-up, size, functions and levels of cross-sectoral integration. What matters is not their official name (which varies widely), but what they are set up to do: where the data is flowing to and from (See Section 3 [PDF 619 KB]).
  • When integrating information management in practice, a wide range of aspects need to be considered in order to develop a functional system, ranging across four pillars: policy and budget (e.g. whether investments are justified); administrative and institutional aspects (e.g. ideal institutional set up); operational and implementation aspects (e.g. how data should be collected, updated, linked and used); and technological aspects, e.g. hardware, software and data transfer (See Section 4 [PDF 653 KB]).
  • Several lessons can be drawn from countries' experience of developing social protection information systems to date (See Section 5 [PDF 561 KB]). Most importantly:
    • Integration is mainly a policy issue requiring political and institutional arrangements rather than technical 'fixes'. Successfully implementing such systems requires strong political commitment to integration within the social protection sector and beyond, as well as careful assessment of the country context and possible costs and trade-offs of centralising data and information management – primarily privacy concerns
    • The policy drive towards integration has been very often dominated by a focus on consolidating targeting (registration and determination of eligibility) across several programs. While pursuing these objectives has been effective in several countries, it could be important to recognise the potential downsides of this approach and shift the main focus of integration towards better serving a country's poorest and most vulnerable citizens throughout their life cycle.

Case studies


Last Updated: 14 May 2018
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