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Strengthening social protection in Zambia: assessing targeting mechanisms

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Rodolfo Beazley

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The Social Cash Transfer (SCT) programme – a social safety net for the poorest households – has piloted a number of different targeting mechanisms over the last decade but despite a number of impact evaluations, evidence on the effectiveness of the different mechanisms remained weak. Our team used a mixed-methods approach to assess the different mechanisms, their strengths and weaknesses, and develop a recommended approach to underpin the national roll-out of the programme.

Challenges

Currently in its pilot stage, the Government of Zambia’s Social Cash Transfer Programme (SCT) aims to provide a safety net, protecting the poorest members of society from sliding further into a cycle of extreme poverty. As it is rolled-out nationally, the effectiveness of the programme will depend in a large part on its ability to successfully identify and reach those households most at risk.

Despite a handful of impact evaluations, there is still a lack of evidence around how the programme selects beneficiaries in the first place. The Government of Zambia has piloted a number of targeting methodologies over the last decade and this project was established to assess these pilots and provide guidance on the most effective targeting mechanism to help underpin the national roll-out of the programme.

Our approach

We worked closely with the Zambian firm, RuralNet Associates, to assess the different targeting pilots and develop recommendations for the SCT.

Our team analysed data from both secondary sources - including programme documentation and literature reviews – and from primary research in the field. A mixed-methods approach was adopted with findings from quantitative methods complemented by those from qualitative research – such as focus group discussions and stakeholder interviews – to provide more in-depth insights into what was, or wasn’t working and why.

The targeting mechanisms were assessed at both design and implementation stages to better understand the potential barriers to their effectiveness. For example, while a method may have been designed to be universal, other factors such as community dynamics or implementation capacity may impact how the selection processes actually play out in practice. We also considered issues of acceptability, assessing perceptions of poverty and how ‘fair’ the different methods were considered by communities.

Finally, by building on insights from the research, we developed a harmonised targeting mechanism drawing on the strengths of the different pilots while addressing the challenges inherent in their design and implementation.

Outcomes

The insights provided by this project have helped improve understanding around the issues that influence the effectiveness and acceptability of the SCT. In turn, this evidence has helped inform decision-making around the wider roll-out of the programme across the country.

By better aligning the selection of beneficiaries with the SCT’s original aim and adapting it to the programme’s capacity, our work has provided the Government of Zambia with a harmonised method that will target the poorest members of society. The mechanism designed by the OPM team has now been adopted by the Government of Zambia as it begins the national roll-out of the SCT.

More broadly, the study helps highlight the role of targeting methods in cash transfer programmes and their potential impact as social protection tools within a wider national strategy.