Aid agencies, governments, and donors are expanding investment in the digitisation of their beneficiary identification and registration systems, in digitised systems for cash payments, and in the remote and algorithmic control of humanitarian and social protection programmes. This is happening in ways that may facilitate the move from humanitarian assistance to government provision and may enable the delivery of shock-responsive social protection. Yet humanitarian and social protection actors are increasingly concerned about a range of risks and accountability vacuums associated with the adoption of these technologies.
While claims for the benefits of digitisation often rest on cost savings, data relating to these costs and benefits are not easily accessible. There is also an urgent need to adopt approaches to value for money in this sector that recognise the digital dignity of beneficiaries. A knowledge gap exists around how the movement towards biometric identification and algorithmic management using humanitarian and social protection data will affect the interests of vulnerable populations – so too does a gap in research that is focused on the standpoints, interests, and priorities of these populations.