Does community involvement in social safety net programmes improve targeting to the poor? This paper from the World Bank reviews the effects of community involvement in selecting beneficiaries and delivering benefits for social safety nets. It suggests that community participation in social safety nets should be combined with national rules and targeting guidelines to ensure that resources are allocated to the poor and vulnerable.
The failure of centralised bureaucracies to reach the poor through social safety nets has shifted attention towards community-based targeting. Community-based targeting (CBT) is a state policy of contracting with community agents to identify recipients for cash or in-kind benefits as well as monitor and deliver these benefits. Community agents can be community groups, such as social groups, or intermediary agents like non-governmental organisations (NGOs) or local elected officials. Three factors are important in assessing community-based targeting: the costs of delivering benefits, the type of distributions that emerge and the level of national funding provided.
Community-based targeting can lead to improved targeting outcomes, but it is not always the best policy. The advantages of community-based targeting need to be carefully balanced against the problems:
- Community agents may have better information about household needs and can implement more effective monitoring systems, reducing administrative costs. However, costly rent seeking and local level corruption may erode these benefits.
- Local social capital can be strengthened.
- Using local definitions of deprivation that are more adaptable to local conditions may improve targeting. However, local preferences may not always be pro-poor. Local elites may dominate the decision-making process on who receives benefits and divert resources away from the poor.
- Programmes are influenced by national funding. National political economy effects tend to be complex and better targeting by communities could result in undermining political support for social safety nets.
- Evaluation and funding of community-based targeting creates several conceptual problems. For instance, should evaluation be based on local or national preferences?
The best targeting outcomes can be achieved by a system that provides significant discretion to local community agents, but also stipulates clear national rules and pro-poor targeting guidelines. Several factors need to be considered in the design of a community-based targeting system to ensure that resources are allocated to disadvantaged groups:
- Different community groups need to be encouraged to compete before decisions are made about who is given the contract to deliver benefits.
- Local voting to decide how to target and redistribute funds is unlikely to guarantee targeting of the most vulnerable. Local social structures that exclude the disadvantaged from access to community resources need to be changed.
- If dominant community groups are likely to exclude weaker groups, excluded groups can be targeted by using quotas. For example, in Vietnam, two-thirds of seats in the governing bodies of production cooperatives are reserved for low-income groups.
- The best community agents may be people who can improve the participation of the poor in the political process. This will help the poor have a greater say in, and control over, how community resources are allocated.
- The accountability of community agents can be improved through external auditing and evaluation and institutions such as mandatory public meetings.