Social cash transfer (SCT) programs are typically publicly funded social protection schemes designed to mitigate the negative effects of poverty among the poorest in society. SCTs are intended to support extremely poor and incapacitated households that cannot be reached by labor-based or microcredit programs (e.g., food security packs, food for work programs, and fertilizer support programs).
These households need regular and continuous social assistance to survive and to invest in the education of their children. High levels of extreme poverty and vulnerability are exacerbated by the multiple effects of HIV and AIDS, poverty, unemployment, and repeated failures in small-scale agriculture. Income inequality remains extremely high, and the number of people affected by HIV and AIDS and the number of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) have grown. Grandparents have become major caretakers of OVCs, experiencing increasing problems in raising income and providing care as they grow older.
SCTs in Malawi
Although cash transfer programs have been piloted for a number of years in Malawi, they have only become more widely implemented in the past four years. The Malawian government is now expanding these programs nationwide and it is therefore critical that we learn more about the implementation processes and related successes and challenges in supporting beneficiary households. It is important to understand and document the fidelity of program implementation (in addition to the program’s impacts) in order to learn if the delivery of the program has deviated from the original plan and document.
UNICEF Malawi is working with AIR to conduct a two-year process evaluation of the Malawi SCT program (SCTP) that includes three components: a process evaluation, a service standards component, and a skills development component. The objective of the evaluation is to help reinforce accountability, contribute to results-based management, and continuously drive service and implementation improvements by offering recommendations to improve operations and build skills. For this evaluation, AIR has partnered with the Centre for Social Research, a Malawian research center based in Zomba with extensive experience conducting performance evaluations of government programs, including work on cash transfer programs in Malawi. The data and results gleaned from the process evaluation will be used to inform the development of service standards, improve SCTP-monitoring guidelines, and develop a capacity-building plan for SCTP staff.
AIR purposefully selected five districts in Malawi which vary in terms of size, geographic location, SCTP funder, and the presence of additional linkage or pilot programs. For this evaluation, we employ a mixed-methods approach (relying on both quantitative and qualitative information) to answer key research questions. Data will be collected twice, once in January 2016 and again in January 2017. Our qualitative methods include in-depth interviews with beneficiaries, key informant interviews with high-level implementers and stakeholders, district officials, and frontline officials who are sometimes requested to validate identified beneficiaries, and focus group discussions with groups of six to eight individuals (mostly knowledgeable men and women of the community).
- In-depth interviews with beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries will provide rich, detailed information about perceptions of SCTP targeting and beneficiaries’ experiences with the SCTP.
- Key informant interviews with carefully selected high-level implementers and stakeholders at the cluster, district, and national levels are an important piece of our evaluation design because they will shed light on perceived gaps or bottlenecks in SCTP implementation from an insider’s perspective.
- Semi-structured interviews with implementers such as payment agents will provide information about day-to-day challenges associated with SCTP service delivery.
- Focus group discussions provide a context in which community members feel comfortable and empowered to discuss the evaluation topics with their peers and the facilitator. Focus group discussions with non-beneficiaries will also provide non-beneficiaries’ perceptions of the SCTP targeting. We will create a social dynamic and encourage participants to reflect on their opinions and experiences and express them verbally.
On the quantitative side, we consult closely the data from the ongoing impact evaluation (conducted by UNC Chapel Hill) particularly in the area of SCTP operational performance.
The AIR team will share final results from the process evaluation, the service standards, and the skills development plan with UNICEF/Malawi in September, 2017.