Thinking of using social assistance data and information systems to support targeting for shock response? Four key steps!

While there are recent international experiences successfully using social assistance data, they are not widespread – and have sometimes encountered challenges. For example, focusing on shock response: Vertical expansions and programmes "piggybacking" on beneficiary data require very little additional efforts (e.g. in terms of adapting processes) and can therefore enable timely responses, if adequately planned in advance. However, they present significant drawbacks in terms of the coverage of affected populations, which need explicit addressing. Moreover, with no preparedness in terms of financing and coordination, timeliness can be significantly compromised.

Horizontal expansions (via existing or new "piggybacked" programmes), on the other hand, inherently involve more complex processes and political decisions. Moreover, few countries have developed social registries with the characteristics needed for these to be truly useful in response to shocks (e.g. sufficient coverage). This does not mean such a strategy is not possible, it simply means it requires significant planning (as for HSNP in Kenya) – including a careful assessment of the various options available for leveraging routine data and systems.

Overall, there are some important potential benefits of using pre‑positioned data and information systems versus "starting from scratch" with new data collection, however building on existing systems is not always achievable and also may come with risks, and trade‑offs. For example: Timeliness of responses can be increased by leveraging existing data, information systems and capacity, if financing is available for timely disbursement of funds and procedures have been planned in advance.