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Leadership, Performance and Innovation working group

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ESN’s working group on Leadership, performance and innovation held a special meeting on evidence-based practice in December 2012. Group member John Powell (UK) said: “As a purchaser I want to buy services of quality, efficiency and effectiveness”, whilst Karine Lycops (Belgium) said she needed a stronger evidence base in her discussions with local politicians. This was also important for Bruno Marcato (Italy), whose service had to cope with a budget cut of 4% in 2012 and now again in 2013. Alfonso Lara Montero, ESN Policy and Research Officer, introduced the meeting by reviewing the types of data needed to build evidence-based strategies, how new practices can become evidence of what works and what are the barriers in applying evidence.

The Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) in the UK is an improvement agency, providing evidence to practitioners. It has identified five types of knowledge: organisational, practitioner, user, research, and policy community knowledge. SCIE’s assessment framework considers six dimensions:

  1. Transparency – is it open to scrutiny?

  2. Accuracy – is it well grounded?

  3. 'Purposivity’ – is it fit for purpose?

  4. Utility – is it fit for use?

  5. Propriety – is it legal and ethical?

  6. Accessibility – is it intelligible?

Sarah Carr from SCIE explained their work to us and expressed the need to make research intelligible to professionals and service users. Marie-Paule Martin-Blachais (France) commented that there may be a need to include evidence-based practice in the education of social professionals, to ensure awareness of and openness to evidence.

The European Alliance for Families (EAF) has established a database of family “practices that work”. The model was outline by Stijn Hoorens of RAND Europe who explained that a practice has to show evidence of effectiveness, transferability and sustainability in order to be certified ‘best practice’. If it demonstrates effectiveness and transferability or sustainability, then it is labelled a ‘promising practice’. He also argued that it was all the more important to develop evidence-based practice in times of economic difficulty because “the imperative to spend public money efficiently is even higher”.

Besides testing existing practices, social services need to create innovative new models to meet new social needs or current needs in better ways. The EU Commission has recognised the need for ‘social innovation’ too and its Bureau of European Policy Advisors published the report “Empowering People, Driving Change” in 2010. One of its authors, Agnès Hubert, underlined that ‘social innovation’ had to be social in its ends and means. She noted that many EU programmes had been promoting social innovation without labelling it as such; arguably, social services are also agents of social innovation, often without realising it.

ESN’s Chief Executive John Halloran concluded that research and evidence may become a new driver of policy development and service design, alongside social values, professional ethics, human rights, political priorities and economic realities. For Karine Lycops, “good managers should look for evidence” as front-line staff may not have sufficient time. Researchers may have an interest in evaluation programmes lasting several years, but in practice, professionals working with users need to have short-term goals and indicators, in order to monitor performance.


Find out more about the work of ESN's Leadership, Performance, Innovation working group and read the 'Contemporary issues in the public management of social services in Europe' series. ESN members can access the presentations from all meetings of the working group in the Projects section of the Members' Area