Rethinking Recovery
Reshaping Social Services with New Tools

For social services professionals on the frontline, Covid-19 has brought about incredible disruption. At ESN we have been documenting the challenges that social services working with children and families, youth, people with disabilities, the homeless and older people have been facing throughout 2020 and 2021, as well as how heroically they jumped into action, to care for those in need.

But Covid-19 also brought about several transformative changes we have spoken about for years. Quoting Rahm Emanuel “never want a serious crisis to go to waste”, it became necessary to implement new and innovative, digital, agile, and remote ways of working; the crisis was the impetus to fast-forward into them.

The Covid-19 pandemic has further encouraged social services authorities to explore innovation with the third and private sectors as well as digitalisation and its benefits, whether back-end improvements, predictive analytics, demand forecasting and remote monitoring. Many public authorities are looking further at partnerships, the integration of health and social care, advance case management that provides for the opportunity to develop new and integrated services across sectors, amongst many other innovation examples.

The European Union’s financial budget for 2021-2027 together with national funds for resilience and recovery mean a significant opportunity to invest in the transformation of social services, through new methods of working and digital means supported by the Recovery and Resilience Facility and the European Social Fund+. With their focus on innovative transformation and on digital transition, this is a chance for social services to invest in modernisation and reform.

In the framework of our working groups on digitalisation and European funds, we have been discussing with ESN members working in social welfare services across Europe and beyond a series of proposals for reform to transform social services into modern and resilient services for a recovery that works for all and leaves no-one behind.

The European Social Services Conference (ESSC) will be organised onsite again in 2022. Taking place in Hamburg (Germany), this is the largest public social welfare policy and practice forum in Europe with over 600 delegates in Milan in 2019 and Seville in 2018. Next year, we would like to explore how public authorities working with private partners and third sector have invested the various recovery funds available to implement innovations and reforms, which are key to promote resilient and future-proof social services.

These reforms may include, amongst others:

Strategic organisational investment

    • Building collective intelligence models with the help of machine reading and learning techniques for trend forecasting;
    • Standards in social services digitalisation to be shared across all administrations involved in social service planning, delivery and evaluation;
    • Enhancing the modernisation of public administration by automating current and new processes for professionals and people using services;
    • Progress in advanced tele-care programmes including remote assessment, monitoring and evaluation.

Investing in the workforce

    • New roles and workforce strategies for training and development adapted to the new needs;
    • Bridging the gap of digital competences of social services professionals through co-design models of developers and practitioners;
    • Development of tools that assess large sets of data to support professionals in service decision-making;
    • Support for the workforce by rolling out collaborative approaches and devices that help with physical aspects of care;
    • Improvement in data management and sharing across services through joint digital protocols and platforms that are accessed based on various layers by professionals and people using services.

Improving the experience of people using social services

    • Through chatbots, digitalisation of web forms, improvements in application processes, as well as any type of apps that promote social inclusion;
    • How to overcome digital exclusion and reluctance of people to engage with technology;
    • Innovative community approaches to maximise the use of technology amongst people who use services;
    • Developing digital competences through support and co-design models and testing pilots with people using digital tools.