This blog flows from an INCLUDE report that calls for more attention to human factors and unintended effects of targeting methods. It also points to hidden costs that further influence meaningful participation. Targeting is essentially a very political and messy business.

Development policies and programmes are always aimed at subcategories of populations. Individuals, households, communities, or other units that are targeted meet certain requirements and are then enrolled as participants. There are several ways in which targeting is being done, ranging from statistical methods and indicator-based survey-based methods to more community-based approaches. So far, there is no consensus on which method works best.

It is impossible to have 100% targeting accuracy. Inaccuracy is measured by inclusion errors and exclusion errors. Implementation plays a great role in effectiveness and accuracy, and this is heavily affected by human factors. Issues outside the targeting systems can influence inclusion and exclusion of participants before, during and after their enrolment. Think of administrative processes, queuing, national ID requirements, among others. Inclusion is not only a matter of numbers and gaining access (whether rightfully so or not), but also about meaningful, suitable, and fruitful participation. Hidden costs to this type of meaningful participation, may follow from administrative processes, stigmatising activities, or other costs in terms of time or money. These costs may cause a participant to drop out, either fully or partly.

Most of the times a target population is much larger than the scope of any one programme or policy. Targeting in this case is also about rationing and justifying the narrow selection. In addition, the decisions about targeting methods may align better with political interests than official policy objectives. In many government policies, targeting is employed to benefit some political groups, and in the case of many NGOs, targeting is partly used as a way of raising overall effectiveness of programmes, not necessarily to target the neediest or reach the unreached. On closer inspection, the goal is to reach those with the highest potential or to distinguish the deserving ones within a larger population of people with almost equal levels of welfare.

This reflects the debate around targeting, between those who point to the increased efficiency of targeting, and proponents of universal approaches who point to the lack of political will as a characteristic of targeted approaches. Proponents of targeting argue for allocating budgets to those who need it most, for increased impact per dollar. Opponents argue that more of the intended beneficiaries will be included when a universal approach is taken.

In practice, some form of targeting is always used. Universal approaches also need to distinguish or monitor inclusion and enrolment. The debate is ongoing and grew more salient during the COVID-19 pandemic from 2020 onwards, as governments struggled to increase coverage and value of their social protection systems in the wake of restriction measures, often building on existing targeting systems.

In short, there is a general emphasis on accuracy and effectiveness. However, it would make sense to focus on social impact of the targeting exercise, the redressal of grievances and the implementation processes, and the unintended inclusion and exclusion effects of other programme components. Especially when targeting reflects a lack of political will to solve inequalities. For more on targeting and the recommendations we pose, please refer to the two-pager and the executive summary, as well as the report itself.

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