I am looking forward to attending the annual conference of the European Social Network (ESN), the European Social Services Conference, which will be held in The Hague from June 20-22. More than 400 senior social services practitioners are expected to attend, along with an impressive lineup of keynote speakers, headed by Jetta Klijnsma, Secretary of State for Social Affairs and Employment, The Netherlands, and Ahmed Aboutaleb, mayor of Rotterdam.
The SAP Institute for Digital Government is excited to be a conference sponsor, along with our parent organisation SAP. The conference theme is “Empowering communities, combating poverty, improving services,” and it will explore how public services can collaborate more effectively with local communities and their citizens to fight poverty and social exclusion. I anticipate the refugee crisis to be a topic that looms large across the conference; expect some intense discussions on how local communities can provide essential social services to new arrivals to prevent them from becoming a new cohort of socially excluded people.
Also high on the agenda is the decentralisation of responsibility for social services delivery to the local government and/or community sector. While there is a strong argument for this approach from a subsidiarity and competency perspective, there is usually strong debate about adequate funding flowing from central governments with revenue-raising authority to pay for these services.
The ESN is a learning network supported by the European Commission, comprising more than 120 member organisations across 35 countries. The network encompasses national associations of directors; departments of social welfare of government, regions, counties, and municipalities; funding and regulatory agencies; and universities and other research and development organisations. It is one of the primary consultative bodies for the commission on social welfare/social services matters.
As a regular attendee at the ESN conference in recent years, one of the highlights I look forward to each year is the pre-event, Nordic Day. This pre-conference event, organised by the Nordic Centre for Welfare and Social Issues (NORDEN), will showcase how municipalities in the Nordic region have implemented new welfare-related technology. These innovative pilot projects have now become an integrated part of the way public authorities deliver their services. Social policy innovation (for example, maternity/paternity benefits) and the use of technology to enable better social outcomes are well-established features of the Nordic welfare model.
A paper released by NORDEN in the lead-up to this event examined the concept of a common market for welfare technology. In a seemingly contrary view to the decentralisation theme of the ESN conference, this report highlights some of the downsides and risks arising from the dis-aggregation of market buying power when local communities have responsibility for technology-related decisions to support the welfare and health needs of their citizens. I expect some interesting discussions on this topic, and as is often the case, questions will be asked about whether the Nordic approach (to welfare technology) is transferable to other European regions.
During the conference I am facilitating a workshop titled “Dynamic social outcomes through Real-Time Program Evaluation.” This is a new research project of the Institute. My Institute colleague, Thomas Boulton, published a recent blog on this topic.
Real-Time Program Evaluation (RTPE) is a business capability for a predictive lead indicator approach to public policy program evaluation. This continuous, real-time evaluation approach enables program changes (i.e., amend, expand, accelerate, constrain, abort) to be made in a dynamic fashion to optimise the benefits and to avoid cost blow-outs. Digital technology underpins this capability, including the analysis of data from government and public sources that is continuously updated as programs roll out. This evidence-based capability to adjust program parameters represents a dynamic approach to achieving public policy outcomes. I am looking forward to sharing this concept with European social services practitioners and listening to their feedback. The discussions at the workshop will serve as a valuable contribution to an upcoming discussion paper.
I look forward to reporting back on the outcomes of the conference. In in the meantime, I need to make my way to The Hague and prepare for a Dutch perspective on social services.