Addressing vulnerability? Cash transfer programming and protection outcomes for out-of-camp Syrian refugees

Paula Armstrong and Karen Jacobsen


This report analyses the successes and shortcomings of a Danish Refugee Council (DRC) implemented e-card programme for out-of-camp Syrian refugees in southern Turkey. While the programme was impressively broad and has helped provide food security for tens of thousands of Syrian refugees in southern Turkey, there are several areas for improvement.  The report focuses on: the profiling questionnaire and assessment, the vulnerability scoring index, and the impact on beneficiaries. It provides recommendations for improved practice.

This report is based on an ongoing action research collaboration between DRC and the Feinstein International Centre (FIC) at Tufts University that aims to better understand factors that impede the use of CTP in emergency contexts and/or hamper CTP’s effectiveness in addressing protection concerns. The team carried out field research, reviewed how vulnerability is defined and operationalised – particularly in the Syrian refugee context – and then analysed the methodology and approach used by DRC for the CTP programme.

The report highlights a number of key findings including:

  • The programme was successful in assessing a large number of households in a short space of time (over 9000 households across two provinces) but there was a lack of enumerator training and issues with the research design.
  • The assessment data is not representative of the Syrian refugee population in Turkey and suffered from measurement error, but it does challenge some received wisdom in the Syria crisis around (lack of) documentation and female-headed households. Findings suggest that the regulatory framework is more important than access to documents and that female-headed households did not differ significantly from male-headed households on most measures of socioeconomic and protection vulnerability.
  • Strengths of the vulnerability scoring index include its field-based, participatory design and simple weighting system. However, inadequate communication between expat and local staff after the design phase regarding index design and problematic variables limited its effectiveness. Increasing the transparency of the index can, however, raise the issues of potential fraud or manipulation from those seeking to meet the targeting criteria.
  • Focus group discussions highlighted how ecards are important material and psychological support to target populations, although there were some concerns related to privacy and the potential for unpleasant shopping experiences. It also highlighted the livelihood focus of beneficiaries’ perceptions of vulnerability.
  • DRC’s conception of vulnerability, and its 91-variable scoring index, was much more expansive and protection-focused than that of the local populations’ conception of a vulnerable household, which was based on the high dependency ration of non-income earners to earners.

The paper offers a number of implications:

  • Complementary programming is necessary to realise protection outcomes, because cash assistance alone – particularly restricted cash assistance – does not necessarily lead to protection related outcomes.
  • Vulnerability targeting indexes must be flexible and designed to be adjustable based on feedback from enumerators or suggestions from local staff. Practical measures such as field piloting surveys and holding regular feedback meetings with local staff are essential to improving the efficacy of these tools, and of programs overall. Strong communication with local staff and target populations is necessary. As is the training of local staff.  Without this, explaining the index and meaning of indicators to households becomes problematic and increases the likelihood of error.


Armstrong, P., & Jacobsen, K. (2015). “Addressing vulnerability? Cash transfer programming and protection outcomes for out-of-camp Syrian refugees. An analysis of the Danish Refugee Council’s e-card programming in southern Turkey”. Medford: Feinstein International Center, Tufts University.