Demystifying information systems and registries for social protection

This project provided important evidence and insights on the much debated issue of social registries, integrated beneficiary registries and associated information systems for social protection.

Project team members

Given the ever-increasing focus on coordinating and harmonising social protection programs, aiming for a systems approach, countries have been exploring new ways to integrate data and better handle information, to ensure that the right people are receiving the right transfer amounts at the right time. This research, commissioned by Australia’s DFAT, addressed recent evolutions in this fast-paced field — including shifts in terminology and innovative best practice — and provides practical guidance for policymakers and practitioners grappling with the issue. The findings are based on a literature review of academic and grey literature on the topic; on extensive interviews and discussions with key informants; and on five in-depth case studies (BrazilChile,IndonesiaKenya and Turkey).

The resulting publication, Integrating data and information management for social protection: social registries and integrated beneficiary registries, updates our previous seminal publication on this topic (Barca and Chirchir, 2014), building on learnings from a South South Learning Workshop with 20+ country representatives. Discussions on the topic are ongoing, within an online community on the topic, co- managed by OPM.

A useful summary is also provided within a webinar, co-hosted with the World Bank


There is an increasing focus on coordinating and harmonising systems for social protection and as a result, the integration of data and information systems across social protection programmes has become a key priority. However, literature on the topic is still scarce and often confused with a tendency to use similar terminology when referring to systems that are radically different in focus, functionality and overall levels of complexity and sophistication. Part of the confusion is due to the fact that, within the social protection context, the terms ‘database, ‘registry’ and management information system (MIS) are used interchangeably without clear reference to wider systems for integrated information management.

This project was established to address this knowledge gap by providing clear information and guidance on the architecture needed to integrate data and manage information across the social protection sector and beyond.

Our approach

Given the novelty of the topic and the lack of systematic literature, the team structured the research process around the practical experience they had gained implementing integrated information systems and registries in several countries. ‘Grey’ literature was given the same weight as academic literature and interviews with practitioners were essential to complement the analysis. Moreover, a strong focus was placed on research uptake. Specific activities undertaken include:


This project has helped fill the knowledge gap around integrated information systems for social protection. By highlighting the factors to consider when implementing a social registry, integrated beneficiary registry, and associated information systems, including step-by-step guidance, our paper acts as a platform to support evidence-based policy-making. The wide participation in our workshop and webinars on the topic and usage of the online community of practice are a testament to this.

The research has also led to future collaborations on the topic of social assistance information systems and shock responsive social protection (see for example this research brief on the ‘factors affecting the usefulness of existing social protection databases in disaster preparedness and response’).

Area of expertise