Social Protection Digest
Issue #2 — December 2023

The Social Protection Digest is a quarterly compilation featuring practitioner guides, evidence-based studies, and policy and conceptual discussions. It showcases recent publications available on the platform covering various topics, all meticulously curated and 'digested' to you by our team. We hope to provide practitioners, policymakers and researchers with easily digestible insights, guidance and evidence from the field of social protection.

In this issue, we present the team's handpicked selections from a wealth of content submitted to the platform between September and November 2023.

Find here the sections of this Digest and the resources that inspired this edition

1. Practitioner's Guide
  • We Have the Data, Let’s Use It Better: Pushing the Boundaries of Social Protection Administrative Data Analysis and Use | GIZ
  • Gender-transformative Social Protection in Crisis Contexts: Guidance Note | P. Pereznieto and R. Holmes.
  • Accessing Social Protection in Iraq: Mapping of Programs and Analysis of Barriers | Action Contre La Faim
  • What Works to Improve Outcomes for Children? A rapid evidence assessment of cash plus programmes | A. Thota et al.
  • When Formality Is Costly and Informality Is Legal: Social Insurance Design Woes at A Time of Economic Crises | I. Selwaness and G. Barsoum
  • Resilience, Vulnerability, and Social Isolation: Barriers to Poverty Reduction in War | R. S. Pierotti and A. Alik-Lagrange
  • The Multiplier Effects of Government Expenditures on Social Protection: A Multi-Country Analysis | D. Cardoso et al.
  • Ensuring an Effective Social Protection Response in Conflict-Affected Settings: Findings from the Horn of Africa | Birch et al.
  • Escaping the capability traps of social protection| Shafee et al.
1. Practitioners' Guide
This section features guidance notes and tools offering practical advice, frameworks and principles for implementing effective social protection programmes and systems.
The delivery of social protection is increasingly managed digitally, with administrative data (e.g., civil registries, tax and financial information, health data) being used to identify potential beneficiaries and deliver support. In this paper, Valentina Barca et al. explore various options to optimise administrative data in social protection analysis and implementation, beyond support to routine operations. 

The authors propose five key uses: (i) routine data analysis to monitor and improve social protection programmes in terms of coverage, adequacy, timeliness, and cost-effectiveness; (ii) diagnostic analysis that transcends routine descriptive analysis, aiming to understand factors affecting outcomes (the ‘why’ and ‘how’); (iii) externally sharing administrative data to foster transparency and accountability; (iv) leveraging administrative data to evaluate programme impacts and discern effective strategies; and (v) providing a rich wealth of information for simulating policy reform, employing techniques such as actuarial modelling and microsimulations. 

This paper provides practitioners with overarching insights, recommendations, and preconditions to optimise the use of administrative data, informing programme implementation, re-design, and policymaking. Figure 1 provides an overview of its conceptual framing.
Figure 1 Conceptual framing for the use of data
Gender-transformative Social Protection in Crisis Contexts: Guidance Note | P. Pereznieto and R. Holmes

This guidance note is designed for practitioners in social protection, humanitarian, and gender fields operating in crisis settings. It presents key considerations for enhancing the gender responsiveness and transformative potential of social protection system components (policy, design, and implementation) in humanitarian contexts. 

Regarding policy, the note recommends evaluating existing legal and policy frameworks for gender discrimination, and advocates for the establishment of legal or policy structures that connect gender equality and the rights of women and girls to humanitarian action and social protection. As for design, it proposes the use of new or existing gendered situation analyses to identify vulnerabilities among individuals with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and sex characteristics. For implementation, the paper suggests customising outreach and communication activities to reach women more effectively, ensuring inclusiveness in registration processes, and making benefits more accessible to empower their control over funds.

The guidance note offers a set of valuable key questions and serves as a practical checklist for practitioners to scrutinise the gender responsiveness of social protection programmes, with a focus on development and crisis contexts. 
2. Evidence
This section highlights emerging evidence on social protection programmes and systems, unveiling innovative findings and shedding light on unexplored areas.
Accessing Social Protection in Iraq: Mapping of Programs and Analysis of Barriers | Action Contre La Faim

This study assesses Iraq’s social protection system, offering a detailed analysis of existing programmes and identifying barriers to access. It examines eligibility criteria, outreach, registration, human resources, and challenges for vulnerable populations. The analysis draws on key informant interviews and focus group discussions with vulnerable community members in areas undergoing humanitarian interventions. 

The findings highlight barriers such as geographical distance, transportation costs, information gaps, trust issues, policy changes, funding limits, and limited outreach. Insights from community interviews yield practical recommendations including empowering women, creating jobs, enhancing infrastructure, simplifying documentation, and fostering government-civil society collaboration. To strengthen social protection in the country, it proposes a holistic approach: financial and in-kind support, capacity development, wider coverage, better education and healthcare, and streamlined processes.

The paper offers insights and recommendations for enhancing implementation, coordination, and inclusivity in Iraq’s social protection systems, applicable to other contexts.
What Works to Improve Outcomes for Children? A rapid evidence assessment of cash plus programmes | A. Thota et al. 

‘Cash-plus’ programmes, envisaged as a dual strategy addressing immediate financial needs through cash provision while targeting underlying behavioural factors, have emerged as a potential catalyst for enhanced outcomes for children. This rapid evidence assessment by UNICEF Innocenti explores the effectiveness of cash transfers combined with social and behaviour change (SBC) components in improving outcomes, such as nutrition and education. 

Using a ‘vote-counting’ approach to synthesise evidence from several studies in low- and middle-income countries, the assessment draws comparisons between the impacts of cash-plus SBC programmes and cash-only programmes to determine whether the SBC element has an incremental effect on top of the cash-only impact. Results show that cash-plus SBC programmes are effective in reducing poverty for households with children, similar to cash-only programmes. They also indicate that cash-plus SBC programmes outperform their cash-only counterparts, particularly in outcome domains such as nutrition and feeding practices, which are the specific targets of SBC interventions. Figure 2 provides a visual representation of the explored outcome domains and their statistical significance.

This paper provides valuable insights into the effectiveness and limitations of cash-plus SBC programmes, highlighting the need for further research and contextual considerations in programme implementation and decision-making. 
Figure 2 Number of studies and measures by outcome domain
When Formality Is Costly and Informality Is Legal: Social Insurance Design Woes at A Time of Economic Crises | I. Selwaness and G. Barsoum

In Egypt, less than half of all jobs offer social insurance (SI) coverage. This paper uses descriptive analysis and logit models to estimate the probability of social insurance enrolment and identify its determinants, controlling for various institutional constraints. The authors test two hypotheses: (i) certain groups of workers are excluded from SI due to institutional constraints; and (ii) eligibility requirements or minimum insurable wages make enrolment expensive. 

Findings suggest that lack of SI coverage in Egypt is permissible within the legal framework due to differentiated regulations contingent on employment status, effectively excluding certain groups such as irregular wage workers, self-employed workers, and unpaid family workers. In addition, membership costs have increased consistently over time, particularly affecting lower wage earners. Compounding the issue, a high tax wedge acts as a disincentive for employers to register their workers for SI, even those who are covered de jure. Given these conclusions, the authors recommend simplifying enrolment and eligibility criteria, particularly for self-employed and unpaid family workers, lowering the minimum insurable wage, and promoting awareness of optional additional payments.

This paper contributes to the understanding of the SI landscape in Egypt and provides insights into potential reforms and improvements, with practical implications for policymakers in terms of simplifying enrolment processes and making SI schemes more accessible.
Resilience, Vulnerability, and Social Isolation: Barriers to Poverty Reduction in War | R. S. Pierotti and A. Alik-Lagrange 

Extreme poverty is increasingly concentrated in fragile and conflict-affected countries, making it crucial to understand the impacts of social protection programmes in these settings. The Central African Republic, with assistance from the World Bank, implemented a temporary public works programme—the Londö project—from 2016 to 2019. It targeted 35,000 individuals in extreme poverty. Survey data show significant positive impacts on beneficiaries' material well-being and productivity. However, the poorest women participants did not experience the same level of improvement. 

Drawing from comparative ethnographic analysis across four sites and 257 interviews with beneficiaries, team leaders, as well as follow-up interviews after programme payments, this paper investigates why the programme failed to yield improvements for the most vulnerable women. Findings reveal that this lack of impact on women persisted even a year after the programme ended, suggesting that efforts to reduce poverty may not effectively reach the most vulnerable individuals in conflict-affected areas. Social isolation is identified as a key obstacle for them, hindering access to support networks and ability to respond to conflict-related shocks without depleting their income. 

The study emphasises the gendered aspect of social isolation, which impacts the poorest women in particular, and underscores the need for poverty reduction programmes that are context-specific to address social barriers in conflict-affected settings.
3. Policy and Theory
This section focuses on policy and conceptual discussions shaping the theoretical underpinnings of social protection strategies.
The Multiplier Effects of Government Expenditures on Social Protection: A Multi-Country Analysis | D. Cardoso et al.

There is a vast literature indicating that government social expenditure has positive and persistent multiplier effects (when money injected into the economy circulates through various rounds of spending, creating a ripple effect), particularly in poorer countries with higher levels of inequality. In this paper, D. Cardoso et al. explore the impact of social protection expenditures on gross domestic product (GDP), using a large dataset covering 42 countries from 1985 to 2020. 

Findings indicate a positive impact, with statistically significant multipliers in most cases. The peak multiplier ranges from 5 in Mexico to -0.71 in Paraguay, underscoring a substantial diversity in the influence of social protection on GDP across different countries. Nonetheless, the study found that the multiplier effect accumulates over time, generating positive impacts particularly in more unequal countries across most of the cases investigated.

The study shows that public spending through social protection policies can reduce inequality and enhance inclusive growth, improving the well-being of the most vulnerable populations. Social protection practitioners and policymakers can use these results to inform their policies and advocate for more effective resource allocation.
Ensuring an Effective Social Protection Response in Conflict-Affected Settings: Findings from the Horn of Africa | Birch et al.

There is a growing interest in the relationship between social protection and conflict as conflict and fragile situations affect social protection programmes' effectiveness and at the same time are required to respond to conflict-related shocks. In this paper, the authors explore the extent to which social protection programmes consider conflict-related risks, identifying features that enable effective social protection in conflict-affected settings, drawing from case studies conducted in Kenya, Somalia, and Sudan

Findings point to key features for designing and delivering conflict-sensitive social protection across two levels. At the strategic level, programmes should consider the full conflict sensitivity spectrum, including cross-border dimensions and sound contextual understanding. At the operational level, enablers include effective stakeholder engagement in programme design, implementation and monitoring; staff members equipped with the necessary expertise and knowledge to properly navigate contexts and address population needs; accountability mechanisms to give voice to the affected populations; and responsible use of digital technologies, which enhance access but also introduce new risks. 

This paper offers a comprehensive look at conflict-sensitivity features of social protection programmes, making recommendations for their improvement, while also considering the role of development partners. Contributions from development can include facilitating dialogue across sectors and actors, providing capacity support to local government staff, and funding conflict-sensitive interventions.
Escaping the capability traps of social protection | Shafee et al.

Despite having clear objectives and positive policy intentions, governments can lack the capabilities (know-how to put things into action) to implement successful social protection programmes and policies. In this paper, the authors examine how governments and international development partners can overcome their ‘capability traps’ in social protection policymaking and implementation. Drawing on extensive literature review, case studies in Ethiopia and Kenya, as well as in-depth interviews with INGOs, think tanks, and policymakers, the authors conclude that capability traps, such as isomorphic mimicry, premature loadbearing, institutional ventriloquism, and knowledge and information trap (see Table 1 for summary and features), are common in social protection initiatives in Ethiopia and Kenya. 

Recommendations to overcome these traps include proactive risk mitigation, comprehensive knowledge sharing, and prioritisation of organizational capacity building. The authors advise an adaptive and flexible approach to policy design, considering the unique political, economic and social landscapes of individual country contexts. External donors should align their agendas with national objectives, emphasising national ownership, political will and accountability. Governments and partners are encouraged to develop approaches rooted in a deep understanding of specific contexts. 

The paper underscores the importance of constant evolution in design and implementation strategies through iterative processes and intentional learning for successful development outcomes.
Table 1 Summary and features of capability traps
4. See more
Curious to explore further? Click here to access the complete set of resources curated by the team.
For more curated suggestions on reading materials and social protection news, check out:
  • The Weekly Social Protection Links by Ugo Gentilini. A new issue of this newsletter is released every Friday, featuring a curated selection and discussion of social protection resources, ranging from scholarly articles to podcasts.
  • The STAAR Evidence Digest is a monthly collection of articles compiled by the Technical Leadership Team at the STAAR Facility, related to social protection in crisis contexts and gender-responsive social protection.
This issue of the Social Protection Digest was written by Roberta Brito, João Bregolin Dytz and Flávia Chacon. It compiles resources uploaded to from September to November 2023. 

The resources listed were curated by the following members of the team: Roberta Brito (Researcher), João Pedro Bregolin Dytz (Researcher), Isabela Franciscon (Researcher), Gabriel Mazaro (Knowledge Management Assistant), and Flávia Chacon (Knowledge Management Intern). 

Your questions and suggestions are very welcome: [email protected]
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