Measuring the Strength of National Social Service Systems

EASURE Evaluation, with support from the PEPFAR OVC technical working group, developed new indicators to help governments and their partners know where their investments are paying off and where to push harder.

Recognizing that effective national economic, social, and health service systems directly support the achievement of an AIDS-free generation, the United States government and others have made substantial investments to strengthen these systems around the world. Including that since 2003, the US Government’s President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has provided over $2 billion for initiatives to mitigate the impact of HIV and AIDS on orphans and vulnerable children (OVC). Over the past five years, in an effort to ensure sustainability and ownership of these initiatives, PEPFAR has increased funding for efforts to strengthen the social service system in HIV affected countries. However, the results of social service system strengthening efforts to date are largely unknown, due in part to the absence of a method to measure them.

To solve this problem, MEASURE Evaluation, with support from the U.S. PEPFAR OVC technical working group, developed new indicators to help governments and their partners know where their investments are paying off and where to push harder. These indicators are currently in beta, and final indicators and definitions will be released after field validation. Learn more in the Measuring Social Service System Fact Sheet.

These indicators can give governments a snapshot of a system’s strengths and weaknesses—information that can be used to develop and monitor an action plan, with strategies and goals. Any system—nascent or advanced—can benefit from their application. The figure below shows the indicators’ fundamental value in the spectrum of efforts to improve child and household well-being.

Logic of Strengthening Social Service Systems

What Do the Indicators Measure?

These new indicators are in line with PEPFAR’s 2012 Guidance for Orphans and Vulnerable Children Programming, which emphasizes strong country ownership and a capacity-building and systems-strengthening approach. They measure the five components of a functional social service system that PEPFAR deems essential:

  1. Leadership & Governance: laws and policies that promote, coordinate, and regulate the provision of governmental and nongovernmental child welfare and protection services
  2. Social Service Workforce: well-trained and effectively deployed governmental and nongovernmental staff who work individually or collectively to address the needs of vulnerable populations—especially children and families
  3. Financing: mobilizing, accumulating, and allocating money in sustainable ways to cover the child welfare and protection needs of vulnerable populations
  4. Information Management & Accountability Systems: processes for collecting, analyzing, disseminating, and using data on child welfare and protection policies and programs
  5. Coordination & Networking Mechanisms: mechanisms for all actors working in child welfare and protection to develop and implement policy, share information, and coordinate services

32 Core Indicators

A table of the new indicators is currently in beta can can be downloaded here. The indicators include all 32 indicators, organized by system component: leadership & governance, social service workforce, financing, information management & accountability and coordination & networking. The definitions of the indicators have been developed and are currently being reviewed and validated in the field. Final indicators and definitions will be released after field validation.


Because the social service systems in various countries applying these indicators are likely to involve different actors and processes, the indicators cannot be used to draw comparisons between countries. In addition, although there is interest for stakeholders to monitor the non-governmental and informal aspects in the social service system, this M&E Framework will focus on the formal government-led aspects of the social service system. For the purposes of this Social Service System M&E Framework, formal social service government actors include all publically-funded Ministries, Departments, and offices, and officials (both paid and non-paid) with statutory authority and legal responsibility for the welfare and protection of children and their families. This means that capturing the progress of the informal areas of system strengthening, including by non-government actors, civil society organizations, private companies, faith-based organizations, and community organizations and leaders, among others, is not currently included in this framework.