Written by Lena Blind (Junior Advisor, GIZ) and Anita Mittal (Senior Advisor, GIZ)


Grace Lovelace wishes to apply for receiving benefit under an old-age widow allowance scheme. The service delivery process would require Grace to establish her identity, prove that she fulfils the eligibility criteria to be a beneficiary under the program and do the needful to receive the benefit as per the payment delivery mechanism adopted by the program implementers. We will illustrate with three scenarios how Grace’s experience would vary widely depending on the digitalization and interoperability of the various systems which need to work together in a coordinated manner for delivering this service.       


Scenario 1: No Digital Systems, No Interoperability

Grace lives in a country where there are no digital systems in place. Hence, she must fill out the registration form on paper and bring the required eligibility documents to her local municipality. Travelling alone might take her quite a considerable amount of time and money – and might even dissuade her from applying. Similar barriers would apply for her friend Sara, who is a person with a disability.

In the event she applies, filling in the form and attaching documents, her documents will need to be sent by mail or agent to the different offices which need to verify her documents. This could be the Civil Registration system to verify her marital status and age, Identification office to verify her identity documents. Passing documents through various hands and departments and verifying manually with paper records, as one would expect, is a long-drawn process. This verification and transportation across departments might take a few months.

Grace is quite upset, months without benefits have been quite difficult for her, but she is still hopeful to get approval. When the officials determine her eligibility, they notify her to prove her liveness and provide further details for processing payment.

Grace is happy to hear about her enrollment and undertakes a visit to the office but still she must wait to receive her first benefit. This might take another month or two to validate her details and process payment as per the payment cycle. The payment may even be distributed by cash for which a van for cash distributions is sent out to the social protection officer that is responsible for the area where Grace lives .

By word of mouth, Grace hears that the money has come and slowly, hopeful, investing again time and money for the local bus, the old woman makes her way to the social protection officer.

Exhausted, but with a smile on her face, she goes home with the cash. The situation though could have been worse if she did not carry her ID document or if the van ran out of cash or left before she could reach the venue, or they did not give out the eligible amount to her. It takes a few months from time of registration to getting payment in this scenario. Now we move on to the second scenario which is rosier than this case.


Scenario 2: With Digital Systems but without interoperability

In this scenario the country has digital systems, but they are neither interoperable nor integrated.

Grace here again applies to an old-age widow allowance scheme. Here she submits her registration form and documents online using the portal of the Social Protection Management Information System (SP-MIS) of the old-age widow allowance program. She may seek support from her friends to apply for the same.

The program officers receive her request directly after submission in the system. To verify her identity, however, they send an email to the Foundational ID Agency and after 2-5 days they get the response. First step accomplished. Next, the old-age widow allowance program staff sends an e-mail to the Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) Office and requests verification of age and marital status. It may take about 5-10 days before the responses are received.

Grace would need to demonstrate her liveness after notification of her eligibility by a physical visit and follow the steps of sharing her bank details.

The official approves the request after a liveness check in the SP-MIS and adds her name to the payment list.

Bank account verification and scheduled transfer of money as per payment cycle may take another few days or a couple of weeks, but this time Grace receives her payment within a few weeks from start of the application process in comparison to months in the first scenario.

Can we do better? Yes, let us see the third scenario.


Scenario 3: Digital and interoperable systems

In this scenario, Grace applies for an old-age widow allowance scheme where the systems for delivering the service are digital and interoperable.

She initiates the process differently, as she neither must look for a bunch of documents nor fill out complicated registration forms – she only provides her foundational ID on the portal of the Social Protection Management Information System (SP-MIS) for the old-age widow allowance program.

And the systems at the backend including the identification system, civil registration and vital statistics system, payment system do the orchestration at the backend via APIs (Application Programming Interfaces), and within minutes the SP-MIS for the old-age widow allowance program checks the authentication status of Grace with the Identification System, then directly her birth date and marital status with the CRVS. She is notified of her successful enrolment within a couple of minutes. And since the payment system is interoperable and integrated with the SP-MIS as well, she provides those details in the same visit and gets notified when money is deposited in her account.

A few minutes is all that it takes to get her successfully enrolled.

Digitalization and interoperability are complex topics that one must navigate with various challenges and requirements including data security and privacy and is a journey in itself. But it has the potential to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of social protection delivery if implemented well.

And to establish interoperability between systems i.e., allowing systems to talk to each other, standards are indispensable.

The Digital Convergence Initiative (DCI), an initiative under USP2030 aims to establish such standards in a consensus-built manner working on interoperability of various interfaces.

To find out more about DCI work and to join the initiative, please visit the website https://spdci.org and write via email to [email protected]



Social Protection Building Blocks: 
  • Programme implementation
    • Enrolment / registration
    • Informations Systems (MIS, Social Registry, Integrated Registry)
Social Protection Approaches: 
  • Digital social protection
  • Global
The views presented here are the author's and not socialprotection.org's