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Innovation, research and evidence-based practice in social services

Innovation, research and evidence-based practice in social services

Contemporay issues in the public management of social services in Europe

This article is also available in français, español, italiano, deutsch, polski

This paper is the second in the European Social Network’s (ESN) new series on contemporary issues for managers and directors of social services in Europe. ‘Innovation, research and evidence-based practice’ explores the potential of evaluation methodologies to provide policy makers and public managers with an evidence base, and so to improve the impact and cost-effectiveness of social and related services. It also seeks to make the link with the European social innovation agenda and the implementation of the Europe 2020 Strategy.

The modernisation of social work is placing an increasing emphasis on evidence with regard to decision-making, service contracting and delivery, evaluation and audit. In difficult economic times, the imperative to spend public money efficiently is even higher and not withstanding political choices and demands, the value of informed decision-making drawing on evidence has gained a new momentum. At EU level, the European Commission is also increasingly prominent in supporting research and innovation grounded on evidence-based knowledge-sharing.

This paper explores the challenges and opportunities for evidence-based practice by drawing on the input of researchers and directors of public social services. Research evidence is absolutely vital for social work, yet there are barriers at the interface between research and practice:

  • How to use research methods from other sectors (e.g. health) to evaluate social policies
  • How to translate research and evidence into practice in a local context
  • How to communicate research findings to policy makers, practitioners and other stakeholders

Looking ahead, ESN’s paper prompts social work managers to think about the key issues around knowledge formulation and utilisation that may be required for effective action, including but not limited to: knowing what policies, strategies or interventions will bring about desired outcomes; improving needs data about the local population; understanding effective programme implementation; promoting commitment. If you wish to engage in a conversation on this topic, please don’t hesitate to contact Alfonso Lara Montero, ESN’s Policy Director.

The report series ‘Contemporary issues in the public management of social services in Europe’ is based on the work of ESN’s working group on Leadership, Performance and Innovation and outlines four key challenges for directors of social services and senior professionals across Europe: Responding to the economic crisis and austerity; Innovation, research & evidence-based practice; Working with education, health and employment: recognising a shared agenda; Leadership & management in social services.