The Government of Kenya made a landmark decision in 2017 to provide a basic monthly pension income to its older citizens over the age of 70 years. The move represents a major step forward in the building of Kenya’s national social protection system. As the final preparations are made to make payments – which should happen within weeks – this blog explains how the country used electronic registration to roll out the new social pension, writes Richard Chirchir.
Technology projects can be plagued by user resistance to change, poorly-scoped requirements, high levels of complexity, weak project planning and monitoring, team members lacking specialist skills required to execute the project and negative corporate policies. These risks are compounded by other contextual constraints in developing countries, which include weak capacity to operate and administer information systems, unreliable telecommunication links in many rural areas. So how did the Government of Kenya register half a million recipients for its universal old age pension?
Kenya’s success was a product of embracing a new technological solution for electronic registration but also meticulous planning and piloting over a period of four years, most notably by development partner WFP. When the new social pension was announced, the country had already done most of the legwork: a tried-and-tested registration platform was in place; all the necessary hardware had been procured; staff had been trained in the use of tablets for electronic registration; a Data Centre was ready to securely manage all the data at the National Social Protection Secretariat (NSPS); and, there was strong political will from the Ministry and the Presidency.
It all started in 2015, when the NSPS commissioned a study and pilot of an ICT-enabled registration mechanism, a study made possible under an agreement with the World Food Programme. The year before, WFP had signed an agreement with the Government to provide technical assistance on a range of social protection issues including targeting, grievance management and strengthening management information systems. As part of this, Development Pathways undertook a detailed assessment of the options available for registration and narrowed the choice down to two options. The first was an electronic registration solution, specifically Open Data Kit; the second was paper registration, using existing MIS registration modules. We undertook a cost-benefit analysis of establishing these two solutions at a national scale.
We found that, while the shift towards electronic registration required an upfront investment, it reduced the overall cost by 75 percent compared with a paper-based system. On the basis of this, the MIS working group – consisting of the Government, WFP, and Development Pathways recommended a trial of Open Data Kit as an electronic registration solution system in two stages: first, a mini-pilot in Machakos and Nairobi; and, secondly, an expanded pilot, with the details to be decided by the NSPS and the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection. The mini-pilot was undertaken with the existing social protection programmes – the Older Persons Cash Transfer (OCPT) and the Cash Transfer for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (CT-OVC) – both of which were scaling up.
To achieve this, first the OCPT’s re-certification form and the CT-OVC’s targeting form were converted to an electronic format, with the mini-pilot conducted in July 2015. To enable the selection of the appropriate option, two devices running the Android Operating System were tested: a tablet, and a smartphone. The results were positive. The pilot concluded that the solution would allow data submission in one to five minutes as well as a significant improvement in the quality of data compared to paper-registration. A tablet was chosen – instead of a smartphone – as the hardware option because of its bigger screen providing a better user experience.
In October of that year, the Government of Kenya signed off on the feasibility report we produced on the electronic registration – which set out a work plan – and documented the costs of procuring the hardware. Next, the Government procured 1,000 tablets, and the stage was set for the registration of every older person for the universal pension using the new technology. However, while the groundwork had been laid, running an electronic registration system at scale is not for the fainthearted. All departments within the Ministry were mobilised and assigned distinct roles. Training was undertaken at national level and then cascaded across the country, while the technical set-up of servers and authorship of the electronic form was provided by the MIS working group. At the political level, the leadership came from the Presidency.
When it was all systems go, the entire operation ran smoothly. The Cabinet Secretaries were dispatched to lead the exercises across the country. On the technology side, the MIS engineers monitored the operations from the Single Registry data centre at the NSPS. Any data glitches were quickly resolved. A portal was established to monitor progress and the senior management of the Ministry were updated on a regular basis.
The result was that, in a record three-week period in July 2017, half a million senior citizens across Kenya were registered. The project was a success. The focus now shifts to the payment providers and the additional KES 4,000 (USD 40) of health insurance cover to be paid bi-monthly to the National Hospital Insurance Fund.
The key takeaway lesson from Kenya is that technology works if you put in place five requisite requirements: strong leadership that is technologically savvy; building the capacity of staff; well-defined programme operational processes; thoroughly tested and tailor-made application software; and a robust and scalable hardware infrastructure.
Arnuphaptrairong, T. 2011 Proceedings of International Conference of Engineers and Computer Scientist 2011, Vol 1, IMECS 2011, March 16-18 2011, Hong Kong
Ministry of Labour and Social Protection. Feasibility Report (2015) Business Case for the National Safety Programme Electronic Registration System