The ‘New evidence on the effectiveness of targeting’ webinar took place on 14 March 2019. The purpose of the event was to outline the results of a new global review of evidence on which types of social protection programme are most effective in reaching people living in poverty.

The webinar was organised by Development Pathways and the Church of Sweden. The event was moderated by Gunilla Palm (Advisor on Social Protection, Church of Sweden) alongside presenters Stephen Kidd (Senior Social Policy Specialist, Development Pathways) and commenters Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona (Senior Research Associate, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, UNRISD, and former United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights) and Andrew Fischer (Associate Professor of Social Policy and Development Studies, Institute of Social Studies, The Hague).


The recording is available here and the presentation here.


Targeting effectiveness

Stephen Kidd opened the webinar with a presentation of the evidence and data presented in the report ‘Hit and Miss: An assessment of targeting effectiveness in social protection’. The publication is the result of a global review of the effectiveness of different targeting mechanisms on social protection recipients.

The main questions that guided the research were:

  • How effective are different types of targeting mechanism in reaching their intended recipients (in other words, what are the exclusion errors)?
  • How effective are different types of targeting mechanism in reaching those living in extreme poverty (the poorest 20% of the intended category)?

They examined 23 national household datasets and assessed 38 social protection schemes in low-and middle-income countries. This included universal schemes, means testing, proxy means testing, community-based targeting, self-targeting and pension testing. They assessed the effectiveness by identifying households with a recipient in the intended category and ranked them according to consumption or income.

  • Exclusion error:

As focus was on the effectiveness of poverty-targeted programmes and not the programmes themselves. The results of the exclusion error (of the intended beneficiaries) can be see below, separated by: Proxy means test (orange), community-based targeting (turquoise), and means testing (blue):

The Brazilian programme, Bolsa Família, was found to have the most effective at targeting, using a household-based means testing approach.

  • Poverty-targeted programmes

Looking at the effectiveness of poverty-targeted programmes in reaching the poorest 20% of the intended category (see graphic below), the results are pretty similar to the above. The programmes are very low budget and therefore, low coverage.

To calculate the percentage of coverage and exclusion including the percentage of correctly included and exclusion error, a graph was presented for each programme studied. An interesting example is Mongolia’s universal child money scheme:

Bolivia’s ‘Renta Dignidad’ universal social protection programme was presented. Despite being a universal programme, it has a large exclusion error, with 8% (compared to 2% in Mongolia’s case):

Stephen demonstrated how a universal approach is more effective than poverty targeted programmes, however, it also has an exclusion error percentage – about 6% to 7% of the very poor are not covered.

Regarding means-tested schemes, Brazil is a good example:

Its success can be attributed to the nature of the geography and targeted population, not just the targeting approach. In South Africa, the low percentage of inclusion/exclusion error of their Child Support Grant has been achieved thanks to affluence-testing, excluding the wealthy that do not need child support.

The proxy means testing (PMT) methodology is found to have a correlation between coverage and exclusion error: The lower the coverage, the higher the error.

The best example of PMT is Peru’s Juntos programme:

The same trend was found with community-based targeted programmes, with even higher inclusion/exclusion error percentages.

Stephen concluded by highlighting that in order to ‘leave no-one behind’, poverty targeting needs to be abandoned or restricted to small and residual schemes. This approach is supported by elites because it requires less tax resource allocation compared to more inclusive or universal schemes. Effective targeting requires investment in inclusive schemes that are designed using a holistic lifecycle approach.


Designing well-targeted programmes

The presentation of the report was followed with comments by Magdalena, who noted that social protection policies need to comply with the legal framework of the country they are implemented in. Implementers have to make sure there is no discrimination in the selection of beneficiaries and therefore, any targeted mechanism must be:

  • justified on objective and reasonable grounds,
  • pursue a legitimate aim respecting human rights, and,
  • ensure proportionality (adopt alternate approaches to minimise exclusion errors), and
  • be transparent to avoid stigma.

Therefore, social protection programmes should not be based on political or ideological grounds: They need to be based on evidence. They should be based on legal frameworks related to the principle of equality and non-discrimination to guide practitioners in the design, implementation, and evaluation of programmes.


Andrew Fisher’s conclusion: From evidence to new practice

Andrew Fischer commented on the importance of the study in understanding the design and implementation of effective social protection programmes. He stressed that it is fundamentally problematic the way targeting is practiced in communities and across classes. It is important to admit that targeting is not working well: There is evidence that should inspire practitioners to revaluate their social protection approach.


The webinar closed with an interesting Q&A, please watch it below:



Social Protection Topics: 
  • Programme design and implementation
  • Targeting
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Poverty
  • Global
  • Global
The views presented here are the author's and not's