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Institutional Aspects

Safety net programs depend on effective program- and system-level institutional arrangements. This section focuses on institutional coordination at the program-level, while recognizing that appropriate system-level institutional arrangements are critical to improve the coordination of safety net systems and policies.

Social safety net programs often involve a variety of functions, involving multiple actors and sectors for effective implementation. For example, some safety net programs are implemented by a combination of national and municipal governments; some contract out payment to private agencies; and some link to other programs and sectors to ensure the availability of related services to beneficiaries and/or activities that will help beneficiaries “graduate” from the program. Many safety net programs rely on effective inter-sectoral coordination (e.g. health and education ministries for CCTs and education and labor ministries for employment programs) and institutional coordination (e.g. across federal, state and municipal government agencies, as well as community structures). There are different types and degrees of coordination depending on program set-up.

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At a Glance  

Because many programs rely on multiple actors (ministries, agencies, companies, etc.) for implementation, timely and high-quality execution of program activities by each actor and coordination of processes is critical to ensure efficient program operation. The key issues to address when coordinating multiple actors for SSN implementation include:

  • Defining roles and responsibilities: Each stakeholder involved in program implementation must have clearly defined activities, timelines, and quality standards. For example, budget decisions may take place at the national level, targeting at the state level, and program monitoring at the local level (see Tanzania example). Ideally each participating actor should be treated as a contractor with specific indicators to measure their performance.
  • Incentives/accountability: Incentive structures are needed to ensure that actors are motivated to play their part in program operation and to define accountability for program outcomes. In order to ensure that institutions and stakeholders are motivated to take part in program operation, it is important to ensure a set of political and economic incentives. Some programs use their budget to ensure that institutions are paid for activities that contribute to good coordination (see Brazil example). Effective coordination leading to good program implementation can also confer political benefits to national, state, and municipal governments (see Brazil example).
  • Legality/ownership: Safety net programs must define who has the right to make decisions about program functions and who owns program information, e.g. in program databases, MIS, etc.
    • Legal frameworks: There are important program implications of different legal structures. For example, programs that are designed by law are generally more stable (less vulnerable to political changes), but less flexible. Even a small program change (e.g. benefit level) may require changing a law. Programs designed by decree or executive order are often more vulnerable to political shifts, but more flexible. For these programs, a small change can occur via a change in the operational manual, rather than a new law. (See legislative arrangements for cash transfer programs in Resources Box).
    • Contracts: Different models for contracting agencies can also have important implications. For example, long-term contracts can give the selected agency security and a willingness to invest up-front costs. However, for many countries, multi-year contracts are not possible because government budgets are done on a yearly basis. Memorandums of Understanding or inter-government arrangements can be used as an alternative to formal bidding for contracts. While these instruments can save time in the coordination and contracting process, it is essential that these arrangements ensure low cost and efficient services.

  • Program linkages: Often program results depend on having complementary services, benefits, and/or programs available to program participants (e.g. health and education services in a CCT) and ensuring that these services are of good quality. For example, in the Dominican Republic, the CCT program provides funding for education and health services and supports the coordination of the supply of these services (see Dominican Republic example).
  • Coordination of processes: Inter-institutional and inter-sectoral coordination involves some very practical actions to ensure that multiple actors are in synch on program processes. For example, timelines, reporting requirements (frequency, indicators, etc.), and budget decisions must be harmonized to facilitate working across agencies. Operational rules can help coordinate processes by establishing responsibilities for each sector at each level of government, key indicators, and the timing of program activities.

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Key Considerations  
  • Coordination is time consuming and requires adequate resources and staffing to be successful.
  • Political will for coordination is also critical. Some safety net programs fall under the presidency, which means there is political will for inter-sectoral coordination. However, it is important to institutionalize this coordination through laws, decrees, budget rules, etc. to ensure ongoing political support across actors.
  • Coordination and incentives are especially important when there are many actors with a range of diverse interests involved in program implementation.
  • Determining appropriate institutional arrangements is often an evolving process, based on lessons learned, changing program needs, stakeholder participation and government leadership.
  • Safety net programs may have centralized or decentralized implementation. The appropriateness of each approach will depend on a range of factors, in both federal level agencies and state and municipal governments: capacity of staff, available budget, record of implementation of previous programs, etc.
  • Existing institutional capacity should be taken into account when determining institutional arrangements. For example, countries with limited institutional capacity may rely on private sector and non-government providers (though with government regulation). Strengthening institutionalcapacity for institutions and staff involved in program implementation is critical for all implementation process to work well.
Examples of Institutional Aspects 


Examples of Institutional Aspects in Safety Net Programs


Defining roles and responsibilities for safety net implementation


Economic and political incentives

Dominican Republic

Ensuring complementary services

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