3, October, 2012

Validating One of the World’s Largest Conditional Cash Transfer Programmes

In this case study, Gala Díaz Langou and Paula Forteza look at how the dissemination of evaluation findings led to improvements in the design of Brazil's Bolsa Familia, as well as a major shift in the government’s commitment to increase funding and expand coverage of the programme.

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The newly elected government of Brazil moved quickly in 2003 to consolidate social policies that it believed would deliver on every citizen’s social and economic rights, as promised in the country’s 1988 constitution. Three cash transfer programmes were combined into one: the Bolsa Família. The Government designed the transformation to include impact evaluations as a way of better monitoring its performance and thus improving its coverage and ultimately its purpose of reducing poverty. The evaluations also were designed to demonstrate that such a controversial policy a difference.


Prior to that evaluation, there was widespread scepticism that Bolsa Família was an efficient use of public funds. Six months after the findings were made public, there was a major shift in policymakers’ attitudes and commitment to increase funding and to expand coverage. The first impact evaluation of the Bolsa Família Programme helped strengthen the management of the benefits, better target beneficiaries and promote a nascent culture of monitoring and evaluation.


Although impact evaluations were factored into the design of the results-based framework for the programme and were expected to produce an assessment of where the programme was strong and weak to direct adjustments in the service delivery, there were two ulterior political motives. First, the political leaders of the new government (supporters of the programme) wanted the evaluation to validate in Brazilian public opinion and policy debates the cash transfers in role of strengthening human capital, improving children’s lives and contributing towards poverty reduction. A faction of policymakers, academics and journalists were criticising the programme with claims of public funds misspent in the hands of beneficiaries or not reaching the poorest households. Second, the impact evaluation was to also validate the integrity of the Ministry of Social Development’s newly established Evaluation and Information Management Secretariat’s existence by proving the usefulness and reliability of the findings.


At the time this case study was prepared, two evaluations had been conducted but only one set of findings was available, and thus our analysis focuses largely on the first evaluation. That first impact evaluation showed that the injection of cash into poor communities helped stimulate the local economy and that the bulk of the money was spent on necessities, such as food, clothing and school supplies rather than “wasted” on things such as alcohol and illicit drugs, as the opposition argued. The fact that children’s education outcomes increased further validated the effectiveness of such a public policy mechanism as conditionalities. According to Bolsa Família managers, the evaluation revealed that although households were still in poverty, the programme helped relieve negative coping strategies and that school attendance of children actually increased.




Authors: Gala Díaz Langou and Paula Forteza (CIPPEC)
Orginal publication date: August, 2012
Publisher: International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie)
Click here to download the complete working paper in PDF format


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