18 November 2010

The Politics and Portability of Social Protection

There isn't enough research on the politics of social protection. Most of the current research is on effectiveness and cost-effectiveness. These studies are obviously important and tend to be focused on the people the scheme aims to support and the internal validity of the evaluation (i.e. how able is the study to identify the independent impact of the social protection scheme in question?).

But little attention is given to the portability (or external validity) of schemes, nor to the people excluded from such schemes and the drivers of that exclusion.

A new report out called Social Protection in Asia, a project coordinated at IDS out of our Centre for Social Protection, partnering with 11 Asian organisations, highlights the value added of focusing on these issues.

The report highlights how portability depends on many issues including the lifecourse of an intervention (how it is conceptualised, how it views vulnerability, who is mobilised behind it) and the capacity to adapt the intervention (itself a function of the adequacy of real time monitoring).

Exclusion from schemes happens because many schemes are politically driven in terms of who is included, are motivated by a mix of electoral politics, are intended to quell social unrest, and seek to build political legitimacy. And so community based organisations and NGOs that can legitimately claim to represent more marginalised groups can play an important role in extending the programmes into neglected realms.

The importance of the portability and politics of social protection was brought home by an interesting seminar given at IDS earlier this week by RĂ´mulo Paes de Sousa, the Deputy Minister of the Ministry for Social Development and the Fight against Hunger of the Government of Brazil. Dr. de Sousa was presenting on the value and challenge of South-South collaboration between Brazil and African countries on the design of social protection programmes.

Much of the anticipated success of transfer and adaptation of this Brazilian "social technology" depends (as with any technology adoption) on ex-ante analysis of whether the conditions are favourable for successful uptake. And much of this ex-ante analysis will be political, sociological and anthropological. We need to see more of this kind of analysis taking place before plans for the ex-post big evaluations are drawn up.

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