Leveraging Technology to Promote Citizen Access to the State

Expanding Access to Welfare Programs Through Technology

Sometimes the neediest are the least able to access government assistance. How can we leverage innovative new technologies to improve access to social programs at a large scale? This project seeks to understand the factors that drive low enrollment in social protection programs in emerging countries.

Project Title

Leveraging Technology to Promote Citizen Access to the State

Exclusion of poor populations from anti-poverty programs is a global issue. This study’s model developed organically from the marketplace in India, and its results may lead to a more sustainable method to increase participation in these programs through better technology and private-public partnerships. The data gathered will help inform and support other emerging countries and will be shared with the global community.

Project Summary

Poor people in developing countries require assistance. Increasingly their governments administer sophisticated social welfare programs. However, program coverage is frequently low because eligible households lack the knowledge and the means to navigate often complex and costly application processes. This project investigates the potential of leveraging technology and private-public partnerships to improve access to state goods and services in India. The interventions build on a model used by an Indian social enterprise called Haqdarshak, which employs community-level facilitators to offer mobile-based, door-to-door services to citizens to inform them of the programs they are eligible for and to help them apply for these programs.

This project offers critical services to 10,000 vulnerable households in rural villages of Rajasthan. Working with Haqdarshak and its facilitators, the project will randomize several elements of the program in order to test their effects: (1) the price of the services, (2) whether facilitators receive messages warning against the provision of false information in screening and applications, and (3) the gender of the facilitator. Through this study and the partnership with Haqdarshak, this project contributes to the growing academic literature on state capacity and access to social services. Moreover, this data will arm policymakers and social enterprises with useful knowledge to design and scale assistance programs to bring millions more poor people into the formal safety net system.

Partner Affiliations in India



Principal Investigator

  • R.H.

    Rema Hanna

    Jeffrey Cheah Professor of South-East Asia Studies, Harvard Kennedy School