The Pardee Papers, No. 8, February 2010
By Moeed Yusuf
February 2010 (50 pages)
This paper analyzes the efficacy of the community-based targeting approach as a means of identifying the poor in anti-poverty programs. It examines the performance of 30 community-targeted programs in developing countries, both in terms of the technique used to identify beneficiaries as well as broader targeting “design” issues such as targeting criteria, monitoring, transparency, accountability, elite capture, and corruption. This paper is intended to be a timely contribution to ongoing policy debate on poverty targeting in which community-based approaches are enjoying growing support.
Community-targeted interventions have tremendous potential to benefit the poor; the technique is undoubtedly preferable to universal poverty programs whose benefits are thinly spread across the entire population. Moreover, robust, program-specific design protocols are seen as critical success-inducing factors; monitoring, transparency, and accountability have a strong positive correlation with targeting performance, while elite capture – defined as the ability of a handful of individuals to hijack the beneficiary selection or benefit transfer process – and corruption are negatively correlated. Further, community targeting is better attuned to communities where societal tensions and extreme disparity are not a preexisting concern and where there is no known tendency towards cultural exclusion based on criteria not linked to poverty levels. On the other hand, the technique is not suited to situations where poverty reduction impacts are strictly dependent on following stipulated criteria. Communities inevitably digress from the criteria, and any efforts to check this tendency offsets the potential benefit from allowing them to use local knowledge. Community targeting is also no recommended for programs where aggregation of poverty data is a high priority, such as programs that seek to create national or regional poverty rankings.
Moeed Yusuf is a political scientist with expertise in South Asian development and strategic affairs. He is South Asia Advisor at the United States Institute of Peace. He wrote this paper as a Research Fellow at the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future in 2009. He has also been a Research Fellow at the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government at the Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University and a Research Fellow at Strategic and Economic Policy Research (Pvt. Ltd.), Pakistan.