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ICT in social protection schemes: deinstitutionalising subsidy-based welfare programmes

Silvia Masiero (School of Business and Economics, Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK)
Amit Prakash (Centre for IT and Public Policy, International Institute of Information Technology Bangalore, Bengaluru, India)

Information Technology & People

ISSN: 0959-3845

Article publication date: 8 January 2020

Issue publication date: 19 June 2020



While the potential of information and communication technology (ICT) for poverty reduction is widely recognised, limited knowledge exists on its use in the social protection schemes devised for the world’s poor. Drawing on the institutionalist vision of IS development and organisational change put forward by Avgerou (2000), the authors propose that computerisation of these schemes entails two processes, namely, the progressive affirmation of ICT innovation and a shift in the programmes' organisational structure, which moves from a subsidy-based model to one grounded on direct cash transfers. The purpose of this paper is to illustrate how the role of ICT in anti-poverty schemes results from concomitance of such processes.


The paper draws on a study of the public distribution system (PDS), the main food security scheme in India, as it is being computerised in the state of Karnataka. Following an interpretive case study methodology, it investigates the ongoing computerisation of the Karnataka PDS through a combination of back-end and front-end technologies, based on biometric recognition of the programme’s users.


The data reveal that transformation of the PDS results from the simultaneous processes of institutionalisation of ICT innovation and deinstitutionalisation of the extant state-led subsidy scheme, in favour of a leaner social protection system centred on cash transfers to beneficiaries. This illustrates the point that ICT innovation is intertwined with the decline of an extant social welfare structure and the rise of a new one, based on the direct transfer of benefits.


The paper offers a new theoretical perspective to illuminate the computerisation of anti-poverty programmes, a phenomenon that affects the entitlements of millions of poor people on a global scale. In parallel, it draws practical implications for countries embarking on the digitalisation of their social protection schemes.



Masiero, S. and Prakash, A. (2020), "ICT in social protection schemes: deinstitutionalising subsidy-based welfare programmes", Information Technology & People, Vol. 33 No. 4, pp. 1255-1280.



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