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Rethinking public works and social protection for the 21st century

Time (GMT +00) 12:30 14:00
Hero image description: Public works scheme labourer Image credit:Rachel Slater and Rebecca Holmes Image license:ODI given rights


Dr Anna McCord - Research Associate, ODI

Colin Andrews - Human Development Network, World Bank

Carlo del Ninno - Social Protection Africa Unit, World Bank


Dr Rachel Slater - Research Fellow and Head of Programme, Social Protection, ODI


Stefan Dercon - Chief Economist, UK Department for International Development (DfID) and Professor of Development Economics, University of Oxford


ODI's Dr Anna McCord and Colin Andrews and Carlo del Ninno of the World Bank are hosting a joint book launch to celebrate the publication of two new volumes on public works:

The World Bank volume reviews the conceptual underpinnings and operational elements of public works programmes around the world. Drawing from a rich evidence base including programme documentation, policy papers, peer-reviewed publications, and empirical data from over 40 countries, it provides an overview of the state of public works programmes and how they function as part of wider social protection systems.

The book provides a comprehensive analysis of the design features and alternative models of public works implemented under diverse country settings. Topics covered include programme objectives, institutional and financing arrangements, targeting, costs and benefits, gender considerations, and monitoring and evaluation. Political economy issues that inform the development and effectiveness of public works programmes are also addressed, bringing into focus the centrality of governance and transparency to ensure the achievement of programme outcomes.

ODI’s McCord proposes that PWPs are perceived to present a ‘win-win’ policy option. They respond to the growing challenge of long-term under- and unemployment, providing jobs for the chronically poor while also creating assets for the state. As such, PWPs offer a welfare transfer which is also a tangible economic investment, promoting livelihoods and stimulating growth.

Focusing on the experiences of Sub Saharan Africa she asks whether they are effective instruments for providing social protection and responding to unemployment, and are they designed to ensure that the best outcomes for the poor are achieved? McCord addresses these questions by drawing on research into more than 200 PWPs across Africa, using extensive field analysis, survey work, and interviews with PWP workers themselves, as well as public works experience from Asia, the USA and Latin America.

Examining the potential and limitations of PWPs in providing social protection, the author outlines major programme choice and design issues, exploring the assumptions underlying current policy preferences. While celebrating the performance of some programmes, she makes a case for reconsidering the function of PWPs as a means of social protection. It argues that as currently designed, many programmes in the region may not offer significant social protection benefits for the working age poor.