What and why
As captured in the ESCAP Action Plan to Strengthen Regional Cooperation on Social Protection in Asia and the Pacific governments should develop and strengthen national data management systems and processes to facilitate the collection, management and analysis of social protection data that are accurate, relevant and timely. It is important for governments to keep beneficiary information up to date to ensure that resources are directed to those who are eligible. Achieving this will require investments in building robust and digitized Management Information Systems (MIS) for each social protection scheme and make sure that these are integrated through single registries that provide an overview at the social protection system level. An integrated approach allows administrators to manage data related to registration, enrolment, payment, beneficiary updates and grievance. Well-designed MISs also play an important role in facilitating and supporting the monitoring of schemes by providing management reports and alerts on key operational processes. Without an integrated MIS, databases may be fragmented within and across ministries limiting efficiency and overall understanding of system level coverage, interoperability, and impact.
Building a robust information management system that promotes inclusion, efficiency, effectiveness and accuracy is largely a policy issue that requires political commitment to achieve integration within and between ministries, backed by sufficient financial resources. To ensure linkages within the social protection system and national level databases, governments will also need to consider:
- The structure, capacities and functions of the current social protection information system. At the outset it is key to map out the current structure and flow of information through existing information management systems. An understanding of the key gaps and challenges from both a policy and operational lens, including those related to hardware and software, is essential to create a shared vision to achieve reform.
- The state of national identification (ID) systems and civil registries. When national ID systems are robust with a unique identifier and high levels of uptake, they can serve as a backbone for integrating data across different schemes. If the national ID system is paper based, its unique identifiers can still serve as a foundation for integration across schemes. This unique identifier for individuals is needed to link registry information and beneficiaries with other systems and schemes. If the ID system is already digitized with electronic and biometric features it can also be used to increase accuracy and efficiency.
- The national e-governance and hardware infrastructure. Where Internet infrastructure is limited, connectivity and networks may be less reliable, which can disrupt the flow of information. This may require physical information transfer processes that slow down systems.
- The funding landscape and capacity to maintain and update systems. Information management systems require high levels of investment to ensure they remain up to date. Data requirements also impact on these costs. For example, complex data collection to determine eligibility adds to the costs and have the risk of targeting errors. Governments also need to ensure that sufficient funds are made available to ensure continuous training of staff working on data management systems to stay up to date with technology and system changes.
- Legislative frameworks for data protection and security. Information management systems require the smooth and secure transfer of information within different geographic locations within the country, also within and between government entities. Ensuring legislation, protocols and systems are in place to ensure data security and protect personal information along the way is crucial to avoid data breaches that could jeopardize scheme delivery and erode trust in government.
With these considerations explored at the outset, governments can design MISs to enable the flow and management of information and enhance delivery at the scheme level. Policymakers will need to engage appropriate capacity, specifically information technology expertise, to ensure MISs are designed to support data collection and beneficiary registration (Milestone 6). This can be achieved through standardizing and digitizing the data collection process and designing online application platforms to facilitate applications.
Once beneficiary information is collected, MISs then provide the platform to analyse and share data to assess needs and conditions for eligibility and potential enrolment (Milestone 7). This requires sufficient hardware and software to adequately store and process personal data. During this step, integration between databases is required to determine eligibility, for example where information on other benefits received is required. The MIS then plays a key function in supporting manual or e-payments through the generation of beneficiary lists and reconciliation to ensure payments have been made in the right amount to the right beneficiary (Milestone 7). MISs are essential to support strong grievances mechanisms (Milestone 8), a MIS can support the digital management of feedback and complaints.
Governments must ensure that personal information stored is regularly or automatically updated to reflect changes in the lives of beneficiaries such as age or estimated consumption, or life events such as birth and death. The ease and accuracy with which beneficiary information can be kept up to date depends largely on scheme design.
Beneficiary management is most demanding for schemes that are poverty targeted. Such schemes require governments to make regular and substantial investments of time and budget in the frequent collection of information to keep databases up to date. As household incomes and consumption regularly change, the information held in these databases becomes increasingly inaccurate as the months after data collection pass by. In addition, schemes that require beneficiaries to meet conditions, such as attending meetings, health check-ups or sending a child to school, require governments to implement a significantly more complicated information management process, which increases programme costs.
With scheme level MISs in place, governments should then link these together through a single registry, providing oversight at the social protection system level. A single registry serves governments as a data warehouse that collects information from all types of social protection schemes. Single registries are therefore important in providing interlinkages between individual scheme MISs and other broader government databases that can be used during registration, including income tax, civil registration and, if applicable, disability databases. It is important to ensure that single registries store: a) the number and characteristics of beneficiaries across each scheme as well as the total number; b) the value and frequency of transfers sent to beneficiaries, disaggregated by relevant categories; and c) expenditure on social protection schemes. Designing and building a single registry therefore enables governments to track and monitor the social protection system, its reach, and its impacts. It is important for governments to consider the amount of information to be stored in the single registry as each additional piece of information increases complexity in terms of maintenance and monitoring.
Single registries must not be confused with social registries, which are designed to perform much more limited functions. Linked solely to poverty targeted schemes, social registries attempt to rank households according to their estimated level of consumption in an effort to select the poorest.
The increasing frequency and severity of disasters, climate, economic and health shocks, like the COVID-19 pandemic, demonstrate the need for governments to ensure that information management systems are designed to respond to crises (Milestone 12). Keeping information up to date is key to put governments in a position to respond correctly and effectively. Digitized platforms and systems that support dynamic and real-time data and information exchange can help governments to reduce errors while simplifying and speeding up processes. Digitized processes will also ensure that data can be more quickly transformed into the information needed to make higher-level decisions. Governments that currently rely on social registries, which face many challenges in keeping information up to date, may consider investing in building single registries to support more efficient and effective responses.