Registration strategy

Once practitioners have determined which data are needed for the ID system and who is eligible, the next step is to determine how data will be collected—i.e., how people will register in the system. One of the most important considerations is the timeframe for which the country wants to reach universal or near universal coverage of the ID system.

Registration strategies, modalities, and timelines have critical implications for the coverage and inclusivity of the ID system and the quality and accuracy of the data collected. Furthermore, the interactions between registration agents and the population are vital points of contact that can either foster or weaken trust in the system. Therefore, registration processes should be designed with the goal of ensuring:

  • Universal coverage of the population, with particular attention to the “last-mile” people and communities that may be difficult to reach and are therefore at risk of being left behind

  • High quality data that is accurate, complete, updated over time, and meets required standards

  • Positive registration experiences for people and operators with procedures that are accessible, transparent, and free from discrimination or undue burdens

Typically—and for countries rolling out a new foundational ID system in particular—it is necessary to adopt a “stock-and-flow” approach to registration in order to ensure inclusion of the entire existing population (i.e., the stock of people already living in the jurisdiction) as well as the continuous flow of new people (e.g., newborns and immigrants). As shown in Figure 23, this involves multiple channels of registration, as well as linkages with the civil registration system, throughout the continuous operation of the ID system.

Figure 23. Registration strategies for different stages of the lifecycle

Registration strategy


In particular, practitioners have a number of interrelated decisions to make with regard to:

  • Approaches to initial registration

  • Approaches to continuous registration and data updating

  • Insourcing and outsourcing

  • Generating demand for the ID system

Each of these topics and their implications—particularly for inclusivity, data quality, and costs—are discussed in more detail below.

Approaches to initial registration

When introducing a foundational ID system (or upgrading an existing one), countries typically rely on one or both of the following methods to cover the existing population (i.e., the stock):

  • Leveraging existing registries and databases. If a country has one or several existing registries or databases—e.g., an older foundational ID system and voter registry—that holds the same data as what will be stored by the new ID system, then this data could be migrated and harmonized. However, for this approach to work, the data should be of a satisfactory quality, have gone through a similar level of Identity proofing, and either be in an interoperable format or easily cleaned and converted to these states. Although this strategy may efficiently provide an initial set of identities of the stock of people in the country—by virtue of the fact that it can be done without contact with the population—it may require additional data collection, which can be done either through an active mass registration campaign and/or by collecting this data when people visit registration points to replace lost, damaged or expired smartcards or to update certain attributes (e.g., as in South Africa and Viet Nam, which are upgrading their paper-based national ID systems in this manner). If this approach is adopted, then it must comply with relevant laws, regulations, and good practices related data protection—e.g., related to purpose specification, data sharing, etc.—and the legal frameworks that govern the source registries and databases and the new ID system. For example, the data might not be able to be migrated from other registries and databases unless people provide explicit consent.

  • Passive and/or active mass registration. A country may need or want to collect new data for the ID system. This can be done through a “mass registration” exercise, either passively (i.e., people visit a permanent or temporary registration point when they need or want to) and/or actively (i.e., mobilizing teams to travel across the country to register communities, similar to a population and housing census but not necessarily visiting individual homes). Passive and active approaches are not mutually-exclusive, and importantly should not be combined with a statistical census (see Box 32).

    • A passive approach can be easier to manage than active registration. However, unless there are sufficient incentives for the population to enroll, it can take longer to reach the level of coverage necessary for certain use cases or benefits (e.g., as in India, where cash transfer recipients were obliged to register with Aadhaar to continue receiving benefits, and then civil servants to continue receiving a salary). If demand is high, then the capacity at certain registration points can be increased or decreased as needed.

    • An active approach typically involves a large mobilization of resources and personnel—provided by the government or the private sector—along with information campaigns and intense outreach in coordination with local governments and local media to cover large portions of the population according to a defined schedule. Active mass registration campaigns are typically rolled out geographically, moving sequentially through the territory (e.g., as in Rwanda and Malawi).

Box 32. The relationship between mass registration and population (statistical) censuses

A population and housing censuses enumeration should not be combined with the mass registration for a foundational ID system. While it may seem that the exercises are similar in the sense that they both intend to collect data on the entire (or close to the entire) population and that there are potential efficiency gains by doing them together, they are very different exercises and integrating them will undermine both important exercises. However, a population and housing census is an effective method of measuring the coverage of a foundational ID system and identifying any correlation between under-coverage and certain characteristics—e.g., socio-economic status, ethnicity, and location.

The purpose of a population and housing census is to produce a wide range of data that provides a snapshot of the resident population by demographic attributes, socioeconomic profiles and geographic location—i.e., it collects significantly more information than what is recommended for a foundational ID system. Furthermore, international standards and recommendations regarding data protection and statistics—including the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics—call for individual-level data collected for statistical purposes to be kept confidential and for this data to be used exclusively for statistical purposes because respondents are more likely to provide accurate and comprehensive information if they are not individually identified. Conversely, the purpose of a mass registration is to individually identify people and to collect as minimal data as possible.

Approach to continuous registration and data updates

Once the initial phase has been completed—or for existing ID systems, once upgrades are completed—a “steady-state” approach to registration requires a strategy for the continuous updating of existing identity records and continuous registration of the flow of new people enrolling for the first time. Without a plan for continuous updating, ID systems and records will become out of date, necessitating repeated—and costly—ad hoc data collection exercises. This updating process is typically done through:

  • “On-demand” registration and updating. Following a mass registration campaign and/or building on existing databases, on-demand registration mechanisms are typically used to (1) incorporate the “flow” of additional enrollees (i.e., for new births, migrants, and people who were not initially registered), and (2) update existing records or collect supplementary data. This typically requires people initiating updates or additional enrollments themselves and may involve the same or different procedures and infrastructure as mass registration campaigns (e.g., mobile campaigns and/or dedicated enrollment centers).

  • Links with other databases—particularly with the country’s civil registration system. In addition to registering new people and making updates to existing records through on-demand registration, linkages with other data sources can help keep identity records up-to-date. Most importantly, this includes automated notifications from the civil registration system when a person has died, allowing the identity provider to disable or retire the identity. It may also include notifications of new births from the civil registration system to generate an identity (if birth registration is linked to the ID system generation), notifications of new legal residents from an immigration database, and more.

Countries should ideally combine the delivery of ID and civil registration systems’ services into one physical point and with ‘one stop shops’ where they exist, rather than set up new frontline service delivery points. Foundational ID and civil registration systems are the core identity services in a country and it therefore makes sense for their frontline services to be integrated. As was demonstrated through ID4D’s research on cost drivers of ID systems, sharing physical infrastructure and human resources between foundational ID and civil registration systems can significantly reduce capital and operating costs.

In addition to these processes, it may be necessary to hold periodic targeted outreach campaigns to communities where the initial coverage of the system was low, and/or where people find it difficult to complete on-demand registration or updating procedures. For instance, Malaysia’s National Registration Department and Peru’s RENIEC periodically travel to remote communities in coordination with local government. Likewise, it will be necessary to make home visits to provide registration and data updating services for elderly, people with disabilities, and institutionalized persons who cannot physically travel to registration points. Social welfare agencies and local government often work with ID agencies to identify such vulnerable persons. For example, Thailand’s Bureau of Registration Administration has registration teams in all 76 provinces who work with district governments to schedule visits to the homes of people who cannot get to district offices, including hospitals and prisons.

Insourcing and outsourcing registration

Countries can choose to insource and/or outsource mass and continuous registration and data updating for the ID system, depending on their capacity, budget, timeline, and the availability of outsourcing partners—e.g., other government agencies at different levels and the private sector (see Table 30). For example, given the complexity of planning and managing a mass registration drive and the human resources and hardware required over a sustained period, practitioners may choose to outsource the initial mass registration, while transitioning to insourcing continuous registration and data updating as they move to steady state, or they may insource registration for populations where there might be insufficient commercial incentive for outsourced registration agents to cover—e.g., smaller rural or remote communities—while urban and densely populated areas are covered by outsourced partners.

India has outsourced the majority of its Aadhaar mass and continuous registration and data updating activities to a wide range of public and private sector “enrollment agents” that are empaneled through a procurement process. The incentives of being paid for each successful registration and competition between the enrollment agents has helped Aadhaar scale up quickly. However, the UIDAI maintains strict supervision over the registration and data updating operations, including certifying equipment, providing the registration software client, and installing an operating system on registration devices that allows UIDAI to monitor the device’s use at the level of keystrokes. Meanwhile, Malawi and Uganda completely insourced their mass registration and continuous registration and data updating, with both countries also completing their initial mass registration relatively quickly because of the strong link with use cases and well-planned registration operations.

Table 30. Insourcing and Outsourcing Registration

Type Description Advantages Disadvantages

The ID authority procures its own registration equipment, hires and trains its own registration staff (temporary or permanent), develops its own registration plans, manages its own logistics (travel, security, installation), and/or provides its own technical support.

Some of these functions could also be outsourced.

The ID authority retains full control and accountability for the implementation of registration and it is easier to change plans (compared to renegotiating an outsourcing contract).

The ID authority must have substantial capacity to carry out procurements, manage human resources and equipment, and to coordinate logistics, and, without proper planning, Government procurement requirements may make operations less flexible.

After a mass registration, the ID authority will have to find a way to repurpose the surplus registration equipment.


The ID authority hires the services of one or more public and/or private sector organizations as registration agents to carry out all the same operations described above, and they are compensated based on each successful—i.e., unique—registration.

The ID authority will likely still have to provide registration software, carry out supervision and monitoring, certify that equipment meets relevant standards, and lead outreach and awareness raising.

Particularly during an initial mass registration, outsourcing allows an ID authority to transfer complicated operations to other actors, which frees up their resources to focus on other core functions. Competition among registration agents can also create incentives for them to innovate and to register the population quickly. Furthermore, by creating an ecosystem of registration agents, there is a possibility that the cost of equipment will be driven down through the competition among hardware providers.

Outsourcing to other Government agencies—e.g., social security and health insurance agencies—can also leverage their offices and use the opportunity of when people use their services to simultaneously register.

Unless the ID agency has visibility on operations and management, there are risks of poor data quality and performance because of the financial incentive to register as many people as quickly as possible, as well as data protection and privacy risks—e.g., that personal data is retained by the registration agent—and whether or not agents will adhere to stated policies (e.g., regarding fee charging or identity evidence).

Generating demand through awareness raising and incentives

While the above sections deal with the supply of registration and data update services, generating demand is equally—if not more—important. Without demand, the best registration strategy will be ineffective. The public need as few barriers as possible and sufficient reasons to travel to a registration point and to potentially queue for hours before not even receiving their ID credentials (in cases where Identity proofing processes delay issuing). This demand can be generated through effective communications and by linking the ID system with the delivery of services.

While Section III. Public Engagement provides general guidance regarding communications, there are several additional lessons specifically for mass registration:

  • Describe the process and requirements clearly. People should be able to easily understand what they need to do and bring to register and/or update data. The information should be circulated through all potential channels—e.g., radio, television, print media, flyers, posters and through local government—and use accessible language. The use of images and graphics will also help low literacy populations.

  • Set up a call center and use social media to engage with the population. The public will inevitably have questions and may need to report complaints. A toll-free hotline and social media pages should be made available to the public, with the ability to scale this up or down depending on forecasted demand. While complaints can be accepted through these channels, they should be dealt with through the grievance redress mechanisms.

  • Manage expectations. The introduction of an ID system can create excitement among the population, particularly if the country may not have strong existing foundational systems. The news media and the public—e.g., through social media—will want to know when registration will be made available to them and when they will receive credentials. Since the initial mass registration is a moment when trust and confidence in the ID system can be won or lost, announcing unrealistic targets is likely to negatively affect the reputation of the ID agency and the foundational ID system. Conversely, early completion announced timelines can create a positive reputation. Practitioners should therefore be careful to only announce targets that it is certain of meeting them.

  • Promote positive reasons to register. As with any communications for behavioral change, awareness raising should be informed by insights from the population through market and end-user research. Such public consultations should help identify the most compelling reasons that people would want to register—e.g., to receive an ID card, because of national pride, or the expectation that it will be easier to access services such as banking and e-government. These positive messages can help mobilize the population to spend their time to participate in a mass registration exercise. On the other hand, describing negative consequences of not registering—e.g., that people may not be considered a “good citizen” or that they could have “something to hide”—could create suspicions about the motives of the ID system and have the reverse effect of discouraging the population to register.

  • Coordinate with local government and other authorities. ID authorities should work closely with provincial and local governments and other trusted government bodies—e.g., social welfare agencies—to get their help in in raising awareness about the importance of registering and how to do so. Local governments and local leaders in particular can help to mobilize the population when registration teams visit a community by promoting the visit a few days and weeks in advance.

  • Prepare for crisis response communications. Considering the large and complex nature of these operation, it is very possible that problems will emerge during any initial mass registration. Real examples of problems that ID systems have encountered include people being denied registration because of a misunderstanding of procedures by registration staff, people standing in a queue fainting because of heat, and allegations that registration staff are requesting bribes. While steps can be taken to reduce these and other problems, they are likely to be reported on news or social media if they occur. The ID authority should therefore be ready to publicly respond to these incidents effectively and with empathy.

While linking the introduction of an ID system to accessing certain services will create an incentive for people to register, people should not be denied essential services because they have not registered—whether by choice or not. Especially early in implementation, certain segments of the population will not have been able to register in the ID system. Therefore, instead of making services contingent on possession of a specific credential or authentication through a particular ID system, people should still be allowed to access these services using credible alternative IDs and methods of authentication. The use of the new ID could also be turned into a positive incentive—e.g., express lines in government offices or reduced fees such as for passport and driving license applications. If an ID system is going to be a requirement for a service—e.g., a cash transfer or subsidy from Government—then there should be a reasonable transition period and mechanisms for beneficiaries to register.