India has emerged as a leader in building on its biometric digital ID to reform service and program delivery. It moved quickly to consolidate the rollout of Aadhaar, and then to embed the unique Aadhaar number into program databases. A range of applications, including digital signature and payments, was then constructed on top of the Aadhaar foundation (the India Stack). Together with partners, the Center for Global Development is analyzing the effects of Aadhaar-based reforms. The three programs we discuss below highlight achievements as well as challenges that need to be overcome for greater efficiency and inclusion.
Digital Governance in Developing Countries: Beneficiary Experience and Perceptions of System Reform in Rajasthan, India - Working Paper 489
India is at the forefront of the use of digital technology to transform the way in which citizens interact with states. This paper provides a picture of the perceived impact of digitization reforms in Rajasthan, based on a survey of beneficiaries of several benefit programs. We find that, on balance, the reforms appear to have improved perceptions of service delivery despite some difficulties during the digitization process and the possibility that there could have been some degree of exclusion.
Identification Revolution: Can Digital ID Be Harnessed for Development? offers a balanced perspective, covering both the benefits and the risks of the identification revolution, and pinpointing opportunities to mitigate those risks.
Recent advances in the scope and sophistication of identification systems could have far-reaching consequences for development. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, there are common features that ID systems should share if they are to support development.
Fuel Subsidy Reform in Developing Countries: Direct Benefit Transfer of LPG Cooking Gas Subsidy in India
India’s reform of household subsidies for the purchase of LPG cooking gas stands out for a several reasons. The paper provides a detailed picture of the reform through its various stages, including how the process was conceptualized, coordinated, and implemented. It analyzes how such a reform must be able to adapt to concerns as they arise and to new information, how digital technology was used and how it is possible to use a voluntary self-targeting “nudge” to defuse potential resistance to income-based targeting.
There is growing recognition of the importance of identification for sustainable development. Its role is recognized formally in target 16.9 of the Sustainable Development Goals, which calls for providing “legal identity for all, including through birth registration” by 2030. Identification is also an enabler of many other development targets, from social protection (delivering support) to financial inclusion (opening bank or mobile accounts and establishing a credit record) to women's empowerment.Having a recognized identity is crucial for achieving several development outcomes.
The post-2015 development agenda is being shaped as we speak. The role of identification and its importance to development outcomes places it within the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agenda — specifically as one of the proposed SDG targets (#16.9), but also as a key enabler of the efficacy of many other SDG targets. Although there is no one model for providing legal identity, this SDG would urge states to ensure that all have free or low-cost access to widely accepted, robust identity credentials.
Biometric identification is spreading rapidly across the developing world, where it is helping to close the “identification gap” that separates poor countries from rich ones. India’s Unique Identification (UID) project offers important lessons for other countries.
This paper surveys 160 cases where biometric identification has been used for economic, political, and social purposes in developing countries. One primary conclusion is that identification should be considered as a component of development policy, rather than being seen as just a cost on a program-by-program basis.
Cash at Your Fingertips: Biometric Technology for Transfers in Developing and Resource-Rich Countries - Working Paper 253
This paper surveys the arguments for and against cash-transfer programs in resource-rich states, discusses some of the new biometric identification technologies, and reaches preliminary conclusions about their potentially very large benefits for developing countries.