The benefits of agile implementation in social protection development interventions: a comparative analysis of social protection information system implementations in Timor-Leste, The Bahamas and Indonesia

For the past decade, Synergy has worked to implement Social Protection Information Systems (SPIS) to assist governments in their implementation of Conditional and Unconditional Cash Transfer (CCT/UCT) programs.  Extensive developmental economics experiments have proven these programs are highly effective in sustainably reducing poverty.  In this paper, we present our lessons learned from the specific domain of software development, which informs a broader discussion of how social protection programs could be implemented more effectively.

We present our implementation work developing information system solutions in Timor Leste, The Bahamas, and Indonesia from 2013-2019.  Ultimately, we find that several lessons can be learned from information system delivery that may profitably be applied to overall program implementation.  Specifically, we find that one of the primary factors determining success or failure in both information systems and new social protection program execution is the extent to which an agile approach is used.

The “agile methodology” is a commonly used approach in both project management and software development. It involves rapidly piloting a program, then slowly expanding and adapting the program based on beneficiary feedback to learn and improve on service delivery in an iterative way.  This methodology was demonstrated effectively in Timor Leste and Indonesia’s social protection efforts.  The opposite in true in Bahamas, where the RISE program spent most of its lifecycle in a program design phase without delivering benefits.

We argue that if the RISE program had rolled out and scaled up a pilot program delivering cash transfers to beneficiaries sooner, it would have been much harder for the new government to cancel the program without political fallout from beneficiaries losing out on transfers.  Incrementally scaling up already successful local CCT/UCT programs in an agile way using effective management information systems results in increased efficiency and accountability and higher quality service delivery.