Across countries, a general trend can be observed during the COVID-19 crisis: social protection is seen by most governments as one of the key instruments to respond to the negative socio-economic consequences that the COVID-19 pandemic brings along for their population. Never has the world witnessed the use of social protection systems at such a large-scale, being it through the extension of already existing social protection programmes or the implementation of new schemes for diverse population groups. However, a key challenge for almost all countries is to use scarce resources efficiently and effectively, while at the same time ensuring that people affected by the crisis are supported as fast and adequately as possible

This blog post therefore summarises the webinar Identification and registration of beneficiaries for SP responses in the wake of COVID-19, which was the 13th event of Social protection responses to COVID-19 webinar series and took place on June 2, 2020. It was co-organized by Development Pathways, the International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG), the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, (DFAT).

This webinar discussed the following questions:

  • Which approaches for identification and registration can work best (depending on country context) to ensure that people in need for extended or new social protection programmes get smooth and timely access?
  • How can governments quickly collect and process key information about potential beneficiaries of these programmes?
  • Which technology solutions are available and ready to be used to support identification and registration processes in times of social distancing? 

The event was moderated by Nikos Nikolidakis, team leader of the GIZ Programme Global Alliances for Social Protection. He was joined by Valentina Barca, SPACE team leader with a focus on SP delivery systems, and Richard Chirchir, senior management information specialist at Development Pathways as panellists.

You can watch the recording here and see the presentation here. A further blog that delves deeper on this topic can be found here while a useful document summarising key options, strengths, weaknesses and pre-requisites of different approaches can be found here.


Unbundling how additional caseloads can be registered to already existing or newly introduced social assistance programmes


Valentina Barca started her presentation by building on the framing presentation given during the second webinar of the COVID-19 series. She reminded the webinar participants that the two crucial questions for SP policy makers and practitioners in the wake of COVID-19 are to

a) ensure that existing SP programmes and systems do not collapse (resilience), and

b) provide adequate benefits for beneficiaries of current SP programmes and extend coverage to additional population groups to tackle the negative effects of the crisis, and comprehensiveness of the support provided (adaptation).

She emphasized that this webinar was specifically looking into options for adapting social protection programmes and systems by expanding social assistance to additional caseloads and the question of how the expansion of coverage can be realized in practice.


What registration approaches are available and how can they be used as crisis response in the wake of COVID-19?

For routine social assistance programmes, there is usually a range of different approaches to register potential SP beneficiaries.

The panellist highlighted that the crucial question during an emergency such as COVID-19 is how to leverage a) the data, b) the capacity and c) the processes and systems that are generated from these routine systems.

What can be achieved depends on what countries have in place, with several interesting experiences emerging globally for the COVID response.  These options differ under many perspectives, including how easily and fast they can be applied and their potential coverage of the following segments of population:

  • the poor and vulnerable (the ‘usual suspects’ targeted with social assistance programmes) - colour-coded red in the figures shown below,
  • informal workers (the ‘missing middle’ usually not eligible for social assistance and also not enrolled in social insurance schemes) - colour-coded green,
  • the ‘better off’ (e.g. formal sector workers) - colour-coded blue

No solution is ‘perfect’ on its own, but can support a sequenced response strategy ultimately aimed at those who have been most affected by COVID-19. What are the key options?

Option A1: Using existing data from SP sector (building on previous registration approaches)

Any routine social or beneficiary registry is generating data and can be used for rapid expansion of caseloads. Countries have been doing this in a lot of interesting ways: e.g. identifying past beneficiaries from beneficiary registries, households on waiting lists or eligible households that had been previously rejected as beneficiaries.

Many countries have also been expanding to a broader caseload using data on potential beneficiaries from Social Registries, often complemented by additional data collection. The potential caseloads reached with this approach depends on the specific nature of the social registry.

Interestingly, before COVID, there were hardly any examples of countries doing this. The reasons for this are many-fold:

  • The coverage of the population in the registry was very often not high enough – e.g. under 70% of population (completeness of data).
  • Data did not allow any conclusions on who was affected most by the shock (data relevance).
  • Data were not up to date as registration and data updating took place on an irregular basis and/or periodically (data currency).
  • There were no agreements with concerned institutions in place for data being used for other purposes, such as shock response (accessibility).
  • Data were not free from omissions and mistakes and were not trusted by other institutions not directly involved in the data collection approach (accuracy).
  • Data had been collected for another reason and could therefore not be used for shock response due to lack of consent of registered individuals and households – or other data privacy concerns (data protection).

The reason why this has been different in the wake of COVID-19 is mainly due to the size of the shock: whereas a normal crisis effects a relatively small segment of the population, COVID-19 effects large parts of the population in many countries. Therefore, the overlaps between those registered in existing registries and those affected by the crisis is higher. This is especially the case in countries with high coverage of social registries, such as Pakistan, Peru and Chile. See more detail on this here. There are still concerns with this approach of course, which is the reason why complementary registration strategies were necessary.


Option A2: Using existing government data beyond SP sector (using data integration approaches)

Another option introduced by Valentina is leveraging ID and civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) data. This approach could be used to a) reach everyone by applying a fully universal approach, b) reach some categories of individuals such as children or the elderly, or c) target out, i.e. selecting those who are not already enrolled in other social assistance programmes (by crosschecking with respective beneficiary registries) and those who are enrolled in social insurance schemes (by crosschecking with tax and social insurance data). The targeting-out approach is particularly useful to target informal sector workers neither covered by social assistance programmes nor by social insurance schemes - the so-called ‘missing middle’. Other government data, such as tax, land or census data can be used as well in this regard. As a response to COVID-19, a significant rise in registration approaches using existing government data beyond the SP sector can be observed.


Option A3: Using other existing data beyond SP sector (using data integration approaches)

As the panellist pointed out, beyond government data other existing data can be used in creative ways to identify and register potential beneficiaries for SP programmes during this crisis, such as data, capacities and tools from humanitarian programmes and financial inclusion programmes. Remarkably, for the first time we are also seeing data and capacities from local councils, cooperative registration, chambers of commerce, informal worker organisations or farmer registries being used for identifying and registering beneficiaries of SP programmes. Again, these approaches are particularly important to reach out to informal workers who are oftentimes those most effected by the crisis. It will be interesting to see if and how these approaches can be sustained beyond COVID-19.


Option B1: On-demand emergency registration via digital windows and helplines

Digital windows are being used in many countries to complement the approaches mentioned above. Valentina pointed out that interestingly, as a response to the COVID-19 crisis, a significant rise in digital on-demand registration can be observed across countries. These approaches had rarely been used for identification and registration of beneficiaries for routine programmes – mostly due to the need to authenticate those who are applying - but are now gaining in importance due to the need to provide rapid and smooth responses in times of social distancing (following ‘pay now verify later’ principles). Those countries that have followed these approaches usually build on strong ID systems for authentication. It is also important to note that during COVID-19 some of the traditional barriers to access using digital windows, such as access to information, complexity and stigmatization, are overcome (extensive information sharing, simplified processes, wide eligibility).

Even though these digital on-demand approaches seem to be easy to set up some prerequisites are absolutely necessary:

  • If there is nothing to build on, they are quite complex to set up fast, to make sure that they can deal with a high number of applications.
  • There is a need for an ID as the backbone for authentication.
  • There is also a need for measures to support information, outreach and communication – specially to reach and actively support those people who have problems accessing the digital window (e.g. those who are digitally illiterate).
  • Another enabler is interoperability of relevant government information systems and existing data sharing protocols to help address the risk of fraud, enabling to crosscheck the data of the applicants.

Option B2: On-demand emergency registration via permanent capacity

Some governments have also been leveraging the existing capacity of local welfare or government offices to allow for on-demand registration – also taking into account and minimizing the risk of contagion. However, these approaches could not be rolled out that fast and the potential for coverage depends across countries.

Option C: Ongoing one-off active outreach

Another option is targeted active outreach by going out to communities with the aim to reach the caseloads that are currently missing in social or beneficiary registries. Valentina touched on these less, as these approaches bear quite high risks of contagion and invariably offer slow progress.


Key take-aways and lessons learnt

Valentina emphasized that – no matter what – what is important is to build on and leveraging existing SP systems, as well as other related (government) systems in place – where these are strong and high quality with no risk of overwhelming existing systems (see this longer paper on the topic). The stronger and more prepared underlying systems are the easier it is to expand them in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. The role of ID and civil registries also becomes clear during this crisis to be able to identify applicants and authenticate information. Moreover, instead of just building on one single approach, the importance of sequencing and complementing different approaches to reach out to a wide range of different population groups affected by the crisis is crucial. Simplicity is key in this crisis context to ensure universal accessibility.

Valentina concluded by stressing that governments need to take accountability to the affected population seriously by providing active support for the most marginalized and putting in place a strong grievance system, by ensuring safety and reduce the risk of contagion during the registration process as much as possible and – last but not least - by ensuring the responsible use of data at all stages of the chain.

Detailed information about the different options on rapid expansion of social protection caseloads can be found in the respective SPACE Guidance Note prepared by Valentina and other experts.


How to leverage technology to identify and register social protection beneficiaries in response to COVID-19

In his presentation, Richard Chirchir focussed on the specific role of technology in supporting identification and registration for social protection responses in the wake of COVID-19.

What are the key technology principles for COVID-19 SP identification and registration mechanisms?

Richard stressed that all digital principles that normally apply are also applicable in the context of COVID-19. The difference is that there is a high pressure for many governments and other SP stakeholders to be able to respond more rapidly and address the needs of many segments of the population in need for social protection at the same time.

Despite this pressure, the following four key principles should be applied:

  1. Enhance interoperability and open standards
  2. Ensure data privacy and confidentiality
  3. Build up and maintain collaboration, and
  4. Ensure sustainability

The principles are elaborated in more detail in the slide below.


What are the main technological options?

Richard stated that when it comes to technology, context-specific solutions have to be designed and implemented, as different technologies will be needed for different situations. He elaborated six technological options that could support identification and registration purposes during this crisis.

  1. Simplify information and other business requirements for COVID-19: usually, SP programmes collect a range of complex data and information variables for identification and registration purposes, such as assets, household composition and socioeconomic details. However, during this crisis, there is the need to think through and streamline information variables into key essential information parameters to ensure rapid response, such as ID numbers, names, addresses and mobile numbers (if needed for delivery).
  2. Leverage existing registries and information systems: If data of households or individuals are already existing in a social or beneficiary registry or any other relevant government management information system governments should elaborate how they could make use of them for identification and registration of potential beneficiaries, by digging into the data, analysing them and identifying gaps that could be closed by crosschecking with other relevant databases. Richard also pointed out that existing options for cashless payment delivery should be encouraged.
  3. Re-use administrative registries and self-registration technology mechanisms to reach out to additional beneficiaries: Existing technologies can be used to ensure that applicants can make contactless registration and thereby reduce the risk of contagion, for example by using mobile devices (in countries with high penetration of mobile coverage). In this context, Unstructured Supplementary Data (USSD) technology is of particular interest. It uses a simple menu-based system with real-time network connections, which works on most mobile devices.
  4. Building new technology solutions and components: Not all countries have a very robust information system for social protection. Therefore, depending on the COVID-19 social protection interventions to be designed and implemented in a specific country, new information systems or technology platforms may need to be developed to supplement already existing ones. Again, USSD is mentioned as a potential option in contexts with high phone and network coverage as it enables contactless registration. New technologies can be built quickly within weeks by using open source technologies available, but more importantly, depending on the information variables and business requirements needed for identification and registration (typically it takes several months or even years to build up new social protection registration and information systems).
  5. Reuse existing data hosting platforms: COVID-19 had disrupted some of the supply chains and resources are very limited in many countries. This is also affecting the procurement of hardware. Therefore, a practical solution under the current circumstances is to reuse existing data hosting platforms.
  6. Strengthen digital literacy and provide feedback mechanisms: It is important to remember that every technology needs to be backed up by measures to improve digital literacy. This is especially true in a crisis mode with many frauds and scams. Some population groups, such as the elderly or persons with disabilities, are particularly vulnerable in this context. Strong feedback mechanisms supported by adequate technology need to be in place to systematically address potential fraud.


What are the main challenges?

Richard concluded by pointing out the main challenges that come along with the use of technology for identification and registration for social protection responses in the wake of COVID-19. They are summarized in the figure below. He summarized that every country has its specific challenges to deal with at the moment but that overall, the wise use of technology can do a lot during this particular crisis. There are of course risks associated with it, but there are many advantages coming with it, especially when analysed carefully.

Detailed information about the specific ways technology can help the social protection response to COVID-19 can be found in Richard’s blogpost.


The webinar concluded with a rich Q&A session, accessible here


This blog post is part of the Social protection responses to COVID-19 webinar series. The series is a joint effort initiated by the IPC-IGGIZ on behalf of the German Federal Ministry of Economic Development and Cooperation (BMZ), and the Australia Government's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) collaboration with the platform, and in cooperation with partners from different organisations.

Join our online community ''Social protection responses to COVID-10 [Task force]" to learn more about the initiative and future webinars

Social Protection Programmes: 
  • Social assistance
Social Protection Building Blocks: 
  • Programme design
    • Targeting
  • Programme implementation
    • Informations Systems (MIS, Social Registry, Integrated Registry)
Social Protection Approaches: 
  • Social protection systems
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Disaster risk management / reduction
  • Resilience
  • Global
  • Global
The views presented here are the author's and not's