Identifying eligible beneficiaries for social programs, a process known as targeting, can be a challenging and costly process for development and humanitarian organizations. Many widely-used targeting strategies were developed for rural environments and may not work as well in dynamic and densely populated urban centers. One potential new technique is “decentralized targeting,” a process that relies on information from socially knowledgeable members of a community. Researchers are working in Liberia to measure the effectiveness of decentralized targeting in reaching poor households and households that have experienced an economic or health shock.

Policy Issue 

Targeting beneficiaries for social programs in urban areas is increasingly important as urban populations grow and poverty or emergency relief programs become more common in densely populated settings. However, current targeting strategies and tools may not be best suited for these dynamic urban environments. For example, the tools for targeting social programs often rely on methods developed in rural settings. These rural programs often leverage pre-existing social and political institutions to target beneficiaries. The effectiveness of these structures may break down in dynamic, urban environments. Another popular beneficiary targeting tool is the proxy means test which measures household wealth. While proxy-means tests are promoted as a quick option for assessing program eligibility, it requires regular updates to calibrate the means testing and does not extend outside of welfare-based eligibility.

The aim of this research is to provide evidence and recommendations for comprehensively identifying beneficiaries for social programs in urban areas. Specifically, the research will provide evidence on how leveraging social connections compares to other targeting methods.

Context of the Evaluation 

Liberia experienced prolonged conflict in the late 20th and early 21st century, in many ways it is both simultaneously growing and re-building. As the country became more stable and peaceful in the recent decades, the doors opened for many international donors, re-introducing the need for effective targeting of social protection programs on a large-scale. Additionally, when the Ebola crisis hit in 2014, health institutions and inter-personal support systems were pushed to their breaking points. With this background, the urban areas of Liberia are a prime – and highly relevant – location to test innovative ways to identify beneficiaries for a variety of social programs.

This study is being conducted in Liberia’s capital city, Monrovia.

Details of the Intervention 

Researchers are evaluating how a decentralized targeting method, used for selecting beneficiaries of a one-time cash transfer program, compares to more traditional targeting methods.

To do so, the research team is conducting an evaluation among 2,656 households to test various alterations in the way information is elicited from individual community members. The research team is canvassing 13 community blocks (administrative designation for neighborhoods) in three distinct areas of Monrovia. IPA is conducting initial surveys with heads of households or their partners. This survey includes a form of the standard proxy-means test to measure household wealth, as well as questions about recent health and economic shocks, questions about their inter-household social interactions/who the respondent pays attention to in the community, and questions about their perceptions of other community members’ relevant knowledge.

After the initial survey, the research team is inviting 394 community members (drawn from 15 percent of the households in each community block) to one-on-one interviews. These community members are selected based on social network criteria:

  • Some are selected because the community consensus said they were more knowledgeable about community welfare than other.
  • Some are selected because the community indicated they were highly connected within the community’s social network.
  • Some are selected randomly to offer a comparison to the above two groups.

During these interviews, participants provide input to determine how an unconditional cash transfer will be distributed among households living within their community block. During the interviews, community members are asked to express their belief about whether or not other households in the community are among the poorest 20 percent of households in the community block, and also asked questions about the relative welfare of households within their community block.

Using the rankings and data collected from the select community member surveys, a one-time cash transfers will be provided to beneficiaries. This selection of beneficiaries is informed by three factors. First, a group of 80 households receive a cash transfer if nominated by a leader within their community block. Second, a group of 120 households receive a cash transfer if nominated by a non-leader within their community block. Third, a group of 80 households will be randomly selected from the poorest households within the community block (the bottom fifth, as measured by the Poverty Probability Index, or PPI®).

During the endline survey, researchers will determine how different cash transfer recipients spent their money and examine household indicators of well-being. We intend to compare how recipients benefited from the cash transfer based on their selection process. We intend to compare the cost effectiveness of the decentralized method with the community-targeting approach to better evaluate effective tools for in identifying needy households.

This design will enable the research team to assess if certain members of an urban community have better access to information about households that are most likely to benefit from a social program; if certain members are better positioned to share information about a social program; how cash transfer recipients share the money that they receive with other members of their social network; as well as if social network targeting mechanisms are useful tools for identifying participants for programs aimed at reducing intimate partner violence.

Results and Policy Lessons 

Study in progress; results forthcoming