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J-PAL shares lessons from India’s digital ID program Aadhaar

J-PAL shares lessons from India’s digital ID program Aadhaar

The story of the Aadhaar biometric identity scheme in India continues to be shared as an example of how countries can implement effective digital ID systems that are properly designed to meet critical needs of the people the systems intend to serve.

This experience was shared in the form of findings of a study commissioned by J-Pal, a research organization which works to inform policy with scientific evidence for the better implementation of identity policies capable of changing lives.

The findings were summarized and presented during a plenary session on Day One of the ID4Africa 2023 meeting by Nidhi Parekh, Project Director of Digital Identification and Finance Initiative in Africa ((DigiFI) at J-PAL.

Aadhaar is one of the digital platforms on which India’s ‘digital stack’ is built, including the UPI payment system which is attracting interest. The DPI has proven to be extremely important for different use cases in the domains of social protection, financial inclusion, government to people transactions, as well as healthcare, just to name these.

One of the proposals shared during the ID4Africa plenary is the need to build a strong base and know exactly the kind of problems that the digital ID system to be built intends to solve. It is also important to understand what the potential risks are and to build strong and flexible mechanisms to better deal with them.

Nidhi emphasized the importance of dealing with the risk of exclusion saying it’s absolutely necessary to build fallback options which can be relied upon in case of failure of the technology deployed.

Trust, she said, is one other major lesson. She highlighted the need to invest in building trust between the government and the civil society, for example, by ensuring transparent data collection and reporting, and by building a narrative which makes people gain confidence in the system.

On another note, the J-PAL research also recommends the necessity to put in place measures to help evaluate beneficiary experiences and to improve them wherever and whenever necessary. “In India, they had call centers where they contacted beneficiaries to have an understanding of what was happening on the ground and to determine if there were any areas of intervention,” said Nidhi.

Other lessons she mentioned included the need to identity ‘teething problems’ and design flaws, and to be able to match survey and administrative data in order to differentiate between exclusion and leakages.

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