Image by David Rochkind, USAID
  • Report
  • 27 March 2020

Digital civil registration and legal identity systems: A joined-up approach to leave no one behind: Executive summary

Executive summary


The golden thread of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda is the promise to leave no one behind. Without this commitment, history tells us that only pockets of society will progress and the poorest and most disadvantaged will fall further behind. To realise this promise, we first need data that is timely, comprehensive and disaggregated – to better understand where these people are, their circumstances and how we can capture them in the data we collect. We know that the data revolution has the power to transform lives, but the poorest and most marginalised people often remain invisible because they are not counted by official statistics systems.

The multiple disadvantages resulting from extreme poverty, geographic remoteness, lack of education and recurrent crisis inhibit efforts to increase the coverage of birth registration.

  • The populations most at risk of being left behind are increasingly concentrated in situations of crisis and civil unrest.
  • Development, humanitarian and peace actors have a unique responsibility to support sustainable, inclusive and resilient data systems.
  • Better targeting of subnational financing towards the poorest regions and populations will support this work.

Many countries have plans in place to improve their civil registration and identity systems, but these will take time to reach maturity.

  • Treasuries and donors need to break out of their three- to five-year policy and return-on-investment cycles.
  • These stakeholders need to commit to long-term investments to ensure sustainable solutions.

There is now a global consensus that a holistic and interoperable approach is required in order to achieve legal identities for all.

  • This approach should bring together civil registration, vital statistics production and identity management.
  • Maintaining paper-based registries is no longer acceptable and identity management systems need to place digital birth registration at the centre of their designs.

The current monitoring framework for the implementation of universal civil registration and vital statistics is not fit for purpose.

  • Data is not comprehensive or accurate as it relies primarily on small sample household surveys.
  • Surveys do not take place with enough regularity to provide up-to-date data.
  • Datasets lack a sense of national or regional ownership and accountability, as governments and agencies are not directly involved with the frameworks, methodologies and managing entities


  1. Global advocacy needs to make the case for long-term investments in digital civil registration systems, led by national treasuries and supported by donors. The Bern Network is positioned well to leverage the opportunity the World Data Forum in 2020 presents to build this case.
  2. Vital statistics should be produced directly from registration systems, even if those systems are incomplete, as the data can highlight underperforming areas and the process of production can develop the capacity needed to produce better statistics.
  3. Monitoring statistics should be derived from civil registration and identity management systems in order to drive efforts to meet SDG 16.9 (“provide legal identity for all by 2030”).
  4. Pathways to sustainable, interconnected foundational data systems – civil registration, education and health – need to be prioritised by all those working to leave no one behind.