Social protection in low and lower middle-income countries is slowly but steadily becoming more systematised. Policy and legal frameworks are widely considered to be crucial for the creation of social protection systems. National policies and strategies can help to institutionalise social protection while legal frameworks can formalise the rights base for social protection. But exactly how important are such frameworks? And what role do they play? This paper aims to shed light on the role of policy and legal frameworks in the establishment of social protection systems. It examines the extent to which frameworks influence the creation of systems (top-down process), whether emerging systems inform the development of frameworks (bottom-up process), or whether a more non-linear process is at work. It does so by building on secondary academic and policy literature and drawing on case study material, most notably in Ghana.