Viola Asri, postdoctoral researcher, University of Konstanz

Keywords: capacity-building; transparency; reflexivity; challenges of collaboration

The project investigates the selection of beneficiaries for Bangladesh’s Old Age Allowance – a cash transfer for the elderly poor in Bangladesh. It tests interventions to improve selection processes for social pensions performed by local government officials in rural areas. Focusing on these social pensions is interesting for two reasons. First, the elderly poor are an increasingly important but largely understudied part of the population in many developing countries. Second, they represent a particularly vulnerable and hard-to-reach target group, and mechanisms that can be proven to work for such groups have the potential to work even better in other contexts. 

Local government officials lack the knowledge and tools to target the benefits as they should according to the guidelines of the National Government. They select either considering only very few rules such as eligibility age in open field selections or with limited transparency in closed-door meetings. There is thus an urgent need for improvement. The project performs interventions to assess how beneficiaries of social pensions might be selected according to the National Government’s criteria using resources available to local authorities. 

The project is developed in collaboration with the Department of Social Services at the Ministry of Social Welfare in Bangladesh, and the intervention includes training of local-government representatives on the national-government guidelines for the selection of beneficiaries and the provision of data on the target group.  

Viola mentions that it can be challenging to work with officials at the national and local levels because it is difficult to get access to relevant stakeholders who tend to be very busy and work on many different important tasks, especially in such official settings. Moreover, there is a need to develop a common language, because researchers use a lot of terminology and academic jargon that needs to be adapted to clearly describe the research plans to the stakeholders. At the same time, it is very important to be precise and transparent in explaining the methodology – to make sure the involved stakeholders have a clear idea of the objectives and methods.  

From this collaboration, Viola has been learning the need for perspective-taking – to reflect on how research is relevant to the stakeholders and most importantly to the people on the ground. She points to the importance of patience, perseverance, and appreciation in collaborative research – acknowledging the extra time and effort stakeholders take to collaborate with researchers. 

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