This blog aims at summarising the key points made by the expert panel at the webinar “Adaptive Social Protection, Decentralization, Localization: Challenges and opportunities for good governance in social protection delivery”, held on 3 August 2021 and organised by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ); the World Bank Group; the Social Protection Approaches to COVID-19: Expert Advice (SPACE) and the International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG).

This webinar is part of a series of events that seek to contribute to the global public policy debate with informed suggestions on best ways of improving social protection systems, as the COVID-19 pandemic has generated a higher demand for such structures. This webinar was focused on institutional arrangements and partnerships, while future ones will explore other aspects social protection implementation, such as programmes; information systems and financial resources.

Social protection politics oftentimes demand challenging institutional arrangements to be consolidated, usually involving numerous actors, and having governments spend a considerable amount of their budget to apply such politics. Many aspects must be considered, such as the scale of the population that is to be reached, the adequacy of transfers, as well as the range of services that will be provided.

However, as countries across the globe differ in their socio-economic conditions, there is no way of formulating a specific social protection agenda that would be universally successful. That said, the webinar problematized this issue by giving some conceptual notes on the interconnection of three different approaches to social protection: decentralisation, localisation, and adaptive social protection. Additionally, it displayed a few international examples on the delivery of adaptive social protection systems in certain countries, followed by the challenges that were faced for institutional agreements to be coordinated in a context of decentralisation and localisation.

The session was moderated by Emily Wylde, Consultant at SPACE, and had contributions from Andrew Wyatt, Consultant at SPACE, Tiago Falcão, Consultant the World Bank, and Vilma Cabrera, former undersecretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development from the Philippines.

In case you want to dive deeper into this issue, you can watch the webinar’s recording and access its presentation.


A theoretical overview

Andrew Wyatt started the discussion by exploring the broader theoretical framework that encompasses the different approaches on social protection topics. Dr Wyatt argued that it is not simple to conclude whether decentralisation or localisation would help fostering or hindering social protection programmes, as there are several different forms of governance involved. By way of illustration, it is known that certain types of social protection programmes would benefit from being centralized in government structures, while others would only reasonably work when delegated to NGOs or sub-national government bodies.

Dr Wyatt presented a proposition on how to connect the multiple variables concerning social protection practical approaches:


Though the variables may link, Dr Wyatt raised some key questions on how to determine whether certain social protection programmes would be effective given the different contexts across the globe. Those would concern ownership, value for money, responsiveness, equity, resources, and coordination. He concluded by wondering if decentralisation itself would really make social protection programmes better when many variables are placed together.


Brazil’s case

Keeping track of the challenges posed todifferent social protection approaches, Tiago Falcão started his presentation by arguing that decentralisation and localisation have now become a central agenda for public policy considering the post-COVID-19 era. The complexity of actions involved in handling institutional arrangements to make such programmes viable is meant to be thought carefully and implemented accordingly.

To better illustrate the decentralisation approach, Mr Falcão discussed the Brazilian experience with social protection programmes, in which different entities of the federation continue to work co-operatively to deliver comprehensive social assistance. For instance, he mentioned that Brazilian social assistance programmes are organised into a single system known as SUAS (single system for social assistance, in Portuguese). In this case, the direct services for the population are the responsibility of municipalities, whereas states and the Federal Government are responsible to finance and qualify this system.

Mr Falcão also presented other concrete examples of decentralisation and localisation. The most known programme in Brazil would be Bolsa Família. To make it work, all three entities of the federation participate in the implementation of this programme. The municipalities assumed the role of registers, conducting interviews and feeding the registration systems. In their turn, the states kept providing technical support for the management improvement of the municipalities. Finally, the Federal Government has the responsibility of regulating the programme by financing the benefits.

As for adaptive social protection, Mr Falcão presented the Auxílio Emergencial programme, an unconditional cash transfer project in Brazil that was a direct response to the COVID-19 crisis. Though states and municipalities also proposed initiatives to tackle the pandemic impact, the Auxílio Emergencial programme was centralized in the Federal Government – the body that handled its implementation and delivery system. With this, a few challenges came to light. One of the main issues would concern the local capacity of municipalities to guarantee that all citizens receive the benefit. Mr Falcão argued that a centralization approach can be valid in certain contexts, but when one considers the heterogeneity of municipalities in Brazil in terms of size, the delivery system could be considered an obstacle.


The Philippines case

All in all, decentralisation has become a useful resource for the implementation of social protection programmes. Vilma Cabrera stated in her presentation that such programmes in the Philippines were mainly influenced by Bolsa Familia. One of these programmes is called Pantawid Pamilyana, a shock responsive conditional cash transfer programme aimed at helping vulnerable households in times of crisis. Though it was implemented before the pandemic, it also helped the Filipinos during the COVID-19 economic shock.

Other adaptive social protection programmes were carried out in the Philippines. One of them is called Emergency Cash Transfer, which is an unconditional cash transfer programme implemented to assist victims in areas declared under a state of calamity. This shock responsive programme was put into action during the typhoon Haiwan in 2013, which generated many victims.

Finally, Ms Cabrera presented another shock responsive programme that was designed specifically to attend the COVID-19 social demands: the Social Amelioration Program. Ms Cabrera presented this programme as the largest nationally led unconditional cash transfer project that was implemented in partnership with local government units to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

As for decentralisation activities, Ms Cabrera presented the role of local governments in the Philippines in the implementation of social protection programmes. She illustrated this with a practical example: the Philippines has a unit called barangay, which are comparable to neighbourhoods. They are responsible for the direct implementation of government policies. Both the municipalities and the cities have the role of validating the list of beneficiaries that is submitted by the barangays while the provinces have the role of monitoring the implementation of the government’s programmes.


The challenges

The webinar was followed by a Q&A session, which encompassed a few issues that concern decentralisation and localisation. As for the latter, Ms Cabrera stated that in the Philippines what makes this policy difficult is that not all local unities comply with the national government. Accordingly, the challenge would refer to the level of complexity with the coordination of conflicting bodies in a decentralized context.

On the other hand, Brazil adopted a mechanism that encourages local unities to adhere to the national government’s social assistance policies. Mr Falcão described how in his country all municipalities have goals for registering the beneficiaries, and are paid prizes when successful in achieving their goals. Alongside this, the municipalities can use active search to reach out to those families that are more vulnerable. With this mechanism, social protection policies are managed satisfactorily in Brazil in a decentralised context.

Finally, the speakers agreed that in health and social protection assistance, the emergency responses work best when built on strong pre-existing systems and methods, as when Auxílio Emergencial was launched using data available through the Bolsa Família database.


This was the second webinar in the ASPects – Practice Exchange on ASP series. These webinars are dedicated to bringing together practitioners, leading experts, and policy makers to share and exchange perspectives on Adaptive Social Protection (ASP). Each webinar within the series will focus on specific practically relevant aspects of one related ASP Building Block (Institutional arrangements and partnerships - Programs - Data and information - Finance). The series, organised by the GIZ Global Program Social Protection Innovation and Learning (SPIL) on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) in cooperation with and other partners, aims at informing the global public policy dialogue on building back better systems and better preparedness for future shocks.

Social Protection Building Blocks: 
  • Policy
    • Governance and coordination
  • Programme implementation
    • Benefits payment / delivery
  • Programme design
Social Protection Approaches: 
  • Social protection definitions and features
  • Brazil
  • Philippines
The views presented here are the author's and not's