Building evidence on the impact of social protection

Cash transfers are estimated to reach between 0.75 and 1 billion people (DFID, 2011). Evidence on the effectiveness of these transfers in increasing school enrolment and health care utilization in Latin America (Gaarder, 2010) has spurred the wide-spread growth of similar programmes across many developing countries.

But there remain many unanswered questions about the impact of such social protection programmes. For instance, we still don’t know whether cash transfers work in weaker administrative environments which typify many African countries. And what are the macro level effects on a country? Do transfers lead to economic growth? The impact of a social protection programme on other outcomes, like HIV/AIDS, is another area where our knowledge is limited. Finally, there is the looming question of whether conditional cash transfers are more cost-effective than unconditional cash transfers.

With support from the UK Department For International Development (DFID), 3ie has awarded US$4.65 million for 10 new studies to investigate these policy relevant questions. For the Social Protection Thematic Window, 3ie and DFID developed a strong shared agenda to fund high quality research that captures the linkages between the 'protection' and the 'promotion' roles of social protection and addresses important gaps in our knowledge. The awarded studies assess the impact of key social protection interventions in countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Nine new studies fall into two clusters: cash transfers and public works programmes. A tenth study is an evaluation of a youth apprenticeship programme in Ghana.

Cash transfers and public works programmes inject billions of dollars into poor communities, and in some cases, into the country as a whole. But what effects do social protection programmes have at the local, regional and national level? Evaluations in Malawi, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia will investigate the extent to which extra income from social protection programmes increases demand for local produce and in turn stimulates economic growth. Research teams will also look at a broader range of outcomes like HIV/AIDS incidence and child nutrition. An evaluation in Ghana will examine the role of youth apprenticeships in stimulating productive employment.

Impact evaluations will provide us with a credible answer to the question of whether conditional cash transfers are effective in impoverished regions with low administrative capacity. Among others, a study in Tanzania covering 80 villages spread across three districts will address this question by assessing the impact of a community-based conditional cash transfer programme on social and economic outcomes. The role technology can play in a social protection programme will be examined in a study in India.  Specifically, this evaluation assesses the impact of technology improvements in the state of Bihar on the targeting of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme – the largest social protection programme in the world. The question of which kind of social protection programme is most effective for a target population is often a difficult one for policymakers. An impact evaluation in the post-conflict setting of Sierra Leone will add more evidence on the differential effects of conditional and unconditional cash transfers on livelihoods and conservation. Another new study will focus on the differential effects of food and cash transfers in Ecuador, Timor-Leste, Uganda, and Yemen. The findings from this study will make it possible to assess the economic and social benefits of these programmes across countries. Similarly, in Peru, an evaluation will assess the impact of the flagship pension programme, Pension 65, and its interaction with the impact of the conditional cash transfer programme Juntos.

The findings from this study will help developing country governments make informed decisions about moving from social protection programmes to social protection systems.

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