This blog summarises the exchanges and key messages raised by the expert panel at the webinar ‘‘Social Protection in Response to COVID-19 and Beyond - Emerging Lessons on the Foundations of Delivery Systems’’, held on 3 December 2020 and organised by the World Bank Group.

In face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global demand for inclusive and effective social protection has never been greater. In this scenario, it is increasingly important to look at the delivery systems in place and the lessons of their employment in favour of government responses to shocks. Drawing from the experiences highlighted in the ‘’Sourcebook on the Foundations of Social Protection Delivery Systems’,’ which aims to address the most common ‘’how-to’’ questions around social protection delivery, the speakers in this webinar summarised the main aspects of the foundations of delivery systems and the relevant developments to date.

The webinar featured contributions by John Blomquist, Global Lead for Social Protection Delivery Systems at the World Bank, and Inés Rodríguez Caillava, a Social Protection Specialist for the World Bank. The session was moderated by Margaret Grosh, Social Protection Senior Advisor for the World Bank.

You can access the presentation slides and watch the webinar’s recording.


Social Protection Delivery during COVID-19

The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the scaling up of social protection measures in unprecedent levels, with new beneficiaries making up more than half of the population covered by COVID-19 programmes. The emerging necessity to quickly identify, register and enrol individuals, especially those from the informal sector, brought about the need for creative solutions and a specific focus on delivery systems. In the midst of this, one of the more evident aspects observed by research to date was the leverage enjoyed by countries with more advanced delivery systems in place, which were able to scale up and roll out social assistance more rapidly and transparently.


1. There is no single blueprint for delivery systems, but there are commonalities.


Introducing these findings and the first of the key principles framing delivery systems, John Blomquist started by focusing on the commonalities often found across different systems. Defined as the operating environment for social protection implementation, some of the recurring elements include the assessment, enrolment, provision, and management stages (as shown by the image above). Despite these similarities, delivery systems tend to evolve over time and should include periodic assessments that can identify room for learning and improvement.

Speaking on the delivery chain and its implementation phases, Inés Rodríguez Caillava highlighted the roles played by institutions and individuals at each phase. Their interaction is important and can be facilitated by technology and information systems. Also, people are fundamental to the systems, and their journeys throughout the delivery chain should be taken into consideration as their status also evolves (e.g., from eligible population to enrolled applicants and so on).


2. Delivery systems evolve over time and their starting points matter

The evolution of delivery systems tends to be non-linear with new investments and corrections possibly being made along the way. These changes will likely impact the system’s complexity over time and variations can be observed depending on the situation at the starting point:


3. The dual challenges of coordination and inclusion are pervasive and perennial.

In terms of coordination, the challenge lies on the levels of delivery interoperability across programmes. In this sense, fragmentation of delivery for different programmes can be costly and jeopardise efficiency, especially from the perspective of users and beneficiaries. From the perspective of administrators, fragmentation can also lead to gaps in coverage and overlapping processes, thus the observed tendency towards greater integration between delivery systems.

Countries’ efforts towards integration can be seen in the form of integration of processes across the delivery chain, shared client interface, interinstitutional integration, and interoperability of information systems. Integration can also be found through the use of common payment platforms and service approaches.

In terms of inclusion, there are two distinct operation models to be considered, based on the on-demand and administrator-driven approaches. The first is related to the application to programs by citizens (technology-assisted or not), while the latter relates to infrequent sensor sweeps initiated by the administrator to collect data on registrants. Another important aspect linked to the challenge of inclusion is dynamism (how people in need can be reached at any time). In comparing both approaches to inclusion, on-demand driven systems prove to be more amenable to inclusion. The inclusion challenge, in this sense, is directly linked to the Adaptive Social Protection agenda and how systems respond to shocks such as the COVID-19 crisis.


4. The first mile matters – but it is often the weakest link in the delivery chain.

People are central to delivery systems. They are the ones that will suffer the most from inefficiencies and a weak client interface. As such, understanding their journey along the delivery chain is extremely important, as a way of avoiding any weak links and improving people’s interactions. An example of a Journey Map, serving the exact purpose of showcasing a person’s experience and expectations along this delivery process, can be seen below:


5. Social protection delivery systems can potentially contribute more broadly to a government’s ability to deliver.

Social protection can serve as an integrator of a government’s capacity to deliver services, beyond social protection itself. Social registries, for example, can help provide access to social support services linked to health and education provision. In this aspect, the Sourcebook advocates for the appropriate use of technology considering the building of digital ecosystems. Technology, however, is not a magic solution and must be accompanied by considerations of its use by people and appropriate data privacy.


6. Social protection delivery systems do not operate in vacuum and should not be developed in silos.

As an integrating factor to governments’ capacity to deliver, and as bridge between people and institutions, social protection delivery systems, and information systems more importantly, are an enabling factor of a systems’ integration. In face of this, data integration will be favoured when the entire government architecture can be employed.


7. Efforts should be made to keep it simple and to do simple well, from the start

When it comes to building a system, it is preferable to get the fundamentals right first, before adding any complexities that can impact implementation. Once again, journey maps from the perspective of individuals should be key in guiding this process, as well as process maps describing roles and responsibilities at the different implementation steps.


8. Quality of implementation matters

Quality, in this sense, entails a continuous effort towards improvement by unpacking every procedure in the chain and understanding any possible challenges. Although focus often falls on the assessment and provision stages, greater attention has been given to the so-called ‘’recurring cycle’’ that includes increasingly important steps such as Beneficiary data management (figure below). To ensure quality, the continuous monitoring of indicators must be adopted as standard practice.


…Back to delivery systems and the COVID-19 response

The experience of COVID-19 reveals the use of varied approaches to targeting and registration. While the first wave of payments strongly relied on the traditional social registries, wherever in place, others with partial or no registries had to adapt by recurring to online applications. A similar pattern was observed in terms of financial development, where developments and ID systems already in place created the initial conditions for the rapid roll out of social assistance.

The increasing adoption of digital payments through the use of simplified platforms contributed to accelerate access to benefits; however, obstacles remain in terms of digital and financial inclusion. Most countries still have nascent delivery systems and enabling factors. In conclusion, the crisis has highlighted the need for greater investments in the continuous improvement and integration of delivery systems, through a dynamic and human-centered approach.

To close the webinar, the panel tackled questions posed by the audience. Watch the Q&A discussion here.

Social Protection Programmes: 
  • Social assistance
Social Protection Building Blocks: 
  • Policy
    • Governance and coordination
  • Programme implementation
    • Benefits payment / delivery
Social Protection Approaches: 
  • Social protection systems
  • Global
  • Global
The views presented here are the author's and not's