Digitalising analogue policy targets! ‘Digital capabilities’ of older persons and policy digitalisation of social safety net programs in a developing country context

The optimization of the human-centeredness of technological innovations – policy digitalization - has exceedingly proliferated in most policy sectors. Yet, a few studies exist on the implications of digital policy tools in realizing social protection policies for older people, particularly in Africa. This paper discusses this issue. It examines data on the ‘digital capabilities’ of older persons and how digital technologies impact their usage and access to social safety net programs in Kenya, where digital policy tools like mHealth and e-Payment platforms are used to realize them. The data collection involved interviews with 81 respondents between 65-90 years of age (individuals targeted by social safety net programs and Social Protection officers). Findings show a need for more robust and policy target-sensitive efforts and budget allocation to overcome policy digitalization challenges, especially those arising from structural governance inequalities or older people’s capability deficits that underpin digital transformation pathways for different policy targets. Most older people in rural areas have negative attitudes and low user digital capabilities toward digital services. This is partly due to a range of challenges from infrastructural deficiencies, low access to internet resources to inadequate policy communication around digital tools. However, higher digital capabilities of policy targets and positive societal attitudes toward digital platforms could improve effective ‘public policy digitalization’ with more targeted investments and user-sensitive designs in place.