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Navigating expanding crises: Using inclusive and interoperable digital technologies to deliver social protection

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Cash transfers in Madagascar The Government of Madagascar, with support from the World Bank, provides more than 80,000 extreme poor households with access to safety nets through regular cash transfers while promoting nutrition, early childhood development, school attendance of children and productive activities of families. Pictured here is a cash transfer in the town of Betafo. Photo: Mohammad Al-Arief/The World Bank.

The Playbook on Digital Social Protection Delivery Systems: Towards Dynamic Inclusion and Interoperability, launched in May 2024, is an experience- and practice-rich knowledge resource for developing a Digital Social Protection Delivery Systems (DSPDS) framework to scale up social protection delivery in a time of expanding crises. Applying the digital public infrastructure (DPI) approach outlined by the G20, and drawing from operations and initiatives undertaken in countries the world over, the Playbook is a valuable resource on how to design, develop, and govern human-centered technology for delivering social protection to people.

The Playbook is specifically designed for social protection policymakers and practitioners working in low- and middle-income countries, and is comprised of a Guidance Note and an Assessment Tool. The Playbook takes a modular approach and is not intended to necessarily be read cover-to-cover. The Guidance Note sets up a forward-looking framework to address the core characteristics of DSPDS cascading down to data, processes, technologies, institutions, and performance criteria involved in designing, implementing, and governing such systems. The Assessment Tool is meant to be used to take stock of existing systems, as laid out in the Guidance Note. The result is an overall framework for enhanced, human-centric delivery of services and benefits—one that grows trust, heightens capacity, and improves security.

In line with the Social Protection Inter-Agency Cooperation Board (SPIAC-B)—an initiative launched at the request of the G20 Development Working Group—social protection is defined as “the set of policies and programs aimed at preventing or protecting all people against poverty, vulnerability, and social exclusion throughout their life cycles, placing a particular emphasis on vulnerable groups.” Although the Playbook mostly focuses on non-contributory social protection programs, its core tenets can be relevant to contributory schemes. As countries transition toward universal social protection, it is crucial to prioritize support to the poorest and most vulnerable, with social assistance playing a central role.

As an inter-agency social protection assessments (ISPA) tool, the Playbook was thoroughly peer-reviewed—including by leading intergovernmental and development agencies—and builds upon existing ISPA tools, such as those on systems for unique identification (2017) and payments (2020), as well as the World Bank outputs, including the Sourcebook on the Foundations of Social Protection Delivery Systems (2020), the World Development Report 2021: Data for Better Lives (2021), and the Combatting Cybercrime: Tools and Capacity Building for Emerging Economies (2023).

The Playbook seeks to lay out a holistic approach to data governance, analytics, and decision-making. Through in-depth analyses and real-life case studies, it highlights how creating robust DSPDS structure and strengthen social protection service delivery, while also improving transparency, increasing accountability, and encouraging participation. The Playbook incorporates country examples throughout—for instance:

  • Argentina’s creation of a foundational unique identification system which interoperates with provincial civil registries but is managed by a central authority (Registro Nacional de las Personas, or “Renaper”);

  • Chile’s transition from a static, census-based, household social registry to a dynamic social registry (or “dSR”) with on-demand registration and updates via municipal offices and an online citizen platform for applications (Registro Social de Hogares, or RSH);

  • Togo’s cash assistance program (“Novissi”)—an emergency COVID-19 initiative that is now being consolidated—which limits person-to-person interactions through the use of novel data sources, such as satellite imagery and call detail records, and which applies artificial intelligence to identify potential beneficiaries and an Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) platform to inform pre-identified individuals; and

  • Türkiye’s consolidation of its various digital social protection delivery systems and more to create a single dynamic and interoperable system, called Integrated Social Assistance System (Bütünleşik Sosyal Yardım Bilgi Sistemi, or ISAS), which relies upon data from 28 administrative data sources and decentralized offices, enabling applications to 50 programs simply by providing a unique identity number through a single online portal.

Designing social protection programs in a progressively digital world calls for a big picture, systems-thinking approach to building shared infrastructure that functions in a whole-of-government way. Anchored in recent work on delivery systems, the targeting of social assistance, adaptive social protection, data governance, and existing ISPA tools, the Playbook aims to help social protection policymakers and practitioners apply such a perspective when working to deliver social services to the 4 billion people still lacking any form of social protection across the globe.

Download and review the Playbook here.

Conrad Daly

Senior Counsel, Human Development & Technology, World Bank

Luis Iñaki Alberro

Senior Social Protection Specialist, World Bank

Tina George Karippacheril

Sr. Social Protection Specialist

Satyajit Suri

Digital Identity Expert, World Bank

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