The Digital Identification and Finance Initiative in Africa (DigiFI) aims to generate rigorous evidence on how African governments, private companies, and NGOs can leverage digital payments and identification systems to improve lives through better public service delivery, governance, and financial inclusion. To achieve this vision, DigiFI plans to support governments and other implementers to monitor and evaluate relevant reforms.
A growing number of African governments have begun pursuing the digitization of payment systems, while others are switching to biometrically-authenticated national IDs which integrate access and delivery of key public services. Early research suggests there is opportunity across Africa for digital technologies to help reduce leakage in the delivery of public goods and services, to increase fiscal capacity, to reduce corruption, and, to boost the welfare of citizens, particularly marginalized groups. Yet, there remains a glaring lack of rigorous, peer-reviewed evidence on the overall impacts of these digital payments and ID systems.
DigiFI Africa aims to fill this evidence gap by funding cutting edge research projects focused on the study of innovative government payment systems, and ID reforms. We expect the evidence produced by this initiative will inform governments on how best to design and implement reforms to maximize benefits to citizens and mitigate risks.
The scope of funding aims to include projects across a range of possible interventions, including but not limited to:
- How can digital ID systems assist with targeting and efficiency in public programs? Do digital ID systems assist or hinder in reaching marginalized populations?
- How do digital IDs affect voter participation, the fairness of elections and electoral outcomes? Does increased enfranchisement affect policy decisions?
- How can digital ID systems and digital payments assist in building incentive systems to motivate public servants?
- Can expanding the formal economy increase the tax base through incentives and simplified processes introduced by digital payments and digital IDs?
- What is the impact of digital ID and digital payment systems on market-level general equilibrium effects? What are their impacts on wages and employment? Are there impacts on occupational choice or migration?
- Can digital ID systems encourage businesses to enter the formal sector? Do these reforms reduce entry costs to entrepreneurship and enable productive investment?
- How do different privacy measures impact take-up of digital IDs?
Recognizing the importance of prompt and reliable information on the performance and impact of reforms, the initiative will take a two-pronged approach, funding:
- Formative research that includes pilot and high-frequency monitoring systems to assess the status and health of payments and ID programs at various stages of reforms, and
- Rigorous randomized evaluations to assess the impact of roll-outs of promising payment and ID reforms.
COVID-19 Off-Cycle Funding
DigiFI is accepting off-cycle proposals for COVID-19 related research (cap of $250,000 per project).
DigiFI is accepting off-cycle proposals for projects that will rapidly respond to policy needs in times of COVID-19 and/or make large contributions to informing policy responses to crises. We are only accepting submissions that use randomized evaluations i.e. either add-ons to existing RCTs or new RCTs that build on existing data. In the case of add-ons, the original evaluation need not be funded by a J-PAL initiative. Applications are open on a rolling basis and will be reviewed every couple of weeks. If a quicker response is required, please write to us and we get back to you as soon as possible.
This off-cycle call is open to J-PAL affiliates and invited researchers across all initiatives, as well as to African scholars. Funding is capped at $250,000 per project. The research topics should fall within the scope of DigiFI as laid out in the DigiFI framing paper, and can be in partnership with a government, private sector or NGO with a focus on sub-Saharan Africa. It recommends exploring the benefits or costs of digitization in a time of crisis. The proposed methodology should, of course, not include any person-to-person physical interaction.