Every month we share with our readers a curated reading list on inclusive development. This month, we are zooming in on social protection targeting. INCLUDE has worked a lot on the topic in the last years (see for example our social protection synthesis report). Social protection also featured prominently in last year’s INCLUDE conference: during the fourth panel session we discussed the benefits of social protection programmes, such as poverty reduction and economic growth, but also raised concerns about unavoidable trade-offs surrounding which groups to target for social protection – and which not to. A year after the conference, our reading list presents key takeaways from some more recent literature on the topic.

In March 2022, a World Bank Spring Meeting session discussed a new World Bank publication, “Revisiting Targeting in Social Assistance: A New Look at Old Dilemmas”, which aims to refresh and update discussions about the benefits and costs of social protection targeting. Main takeaways of the publication are that targeting can play a valuable role within universal social protection and that concentrating benefits on the poor through targeting is a cost-effective way of reducing poverty. However, this blog by socialprotection.org argues that targeted schemes that seek to reach the poorest can produce huge exclusions. In addition, procedures aiming to determine whether people are eligible to participate in schemes can become very complex, with beneficiaries forced to prove they are ‘poor enough’ to be included.

The Institute of Development Studies examines targeting in protracted crisis situations, with attention to the difficulty of minimising exclusion (aid not reaching people who should be reached) and inclusion (targeting people who should not be targeted) errors. In addition, the working paper also points out the risk of resentment between beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries, as also became clear from research into a cash transfer program in Chad.

As is clear from the literature, social protection programmes remain a highly useful tool for inclusive development, but require careful design and must take measures to safeguard inclusivity. For recommendations on how to navigate the complexities and trade-offs mentioned here, check out INCLUDE’s recent blogtwo-pager and report. Here we point to human factors of targeting and call for a decentralised approach to targeting as a way to advance inclusivity in development policies and programmes.

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