With cash-based transfers often reliant on digital technology, IT is inseparable from the process, from design phase to implementation. When food assistance is electronically based, the World Food Programme (WFP) is able to equip the remotest locations with POS (point of sale) devices, fingerprint readers, and other systems and mechanisms that help verify identities and transfer funds, safely and swiftly, to beneficiaries and retailers.

Is there electricity in the target area? Internet access? If not, what operations can be carried out offline? How strong is the local IT infrastructure? Which are the possible delivery mechanisms? What data exchange standards should be used? Encryption; privacy; data protection – all come into play.

By the end of 2017, it is estimated that WFP’s food assistance management platform, SCOPE, will be able to handle all interventions involving cash-based transfers within a single IT environment. SCOPE is an end-to-end system which WFP uses to register the identities and biometric data of eligible beneficiaries (including, for example, the weight of children) and through which beneficiaries, in turn, can make their payments and purchases. All transactions are recorded and stored.

A flexible and powerful data source, SCOPE helps us better understand the needs, behaviour and consumption patterns of the people we serve. It improves targeting and decision making, while providing a rich seam of research and policy development opportunities.

After the earthquake of 2015, Nepal was the first country to use our offline registration app. This allowed us register 40,600 households in ten days and cut response times in half. On the very day of registration through an offline smartphone, a token could be delivered to each household and be immediately used to buy food.

Elsewhere – in Somalia, for example – SCOPE has allowed us to monitor beneficiary preferences and expand the range of food available to buy. Crucially, SCOPE makes it possible to correct the course of interventions, as happened in Malawi. There, WFP and other partners support the government in tackling malnutrition in young children. In 2015, data showed that the families of some 5,000 children had failed to turn up to receive their monthly nutrition supplement and counselling. This triggered programme adjustments which boosted attendance from 65.6% to 82.9%.

By May 2016, some four million people around the world were enrolled in SCOPE and had benefitted from its improved capacity for service provision.