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We are experiencing a time of rapid technological transformation, with new technology changing how we work and live. This applies to public social services too. At the 25th European Social Services Conference, we learned about a multitude of digital tools introduced by public social services to improve services and the lives of service users across Europe.

A clear example of this technological transformation was provided by Maarjo Mändmaa in the opening session of the Conference. Maarjo described the e-governance strategy in Estonia, where public services are increasingly accessed digitally. This is encapsulated by the digital signature, which has the same legal basis as an ordinary pen and paper signature and is incorporated into an e-identity card.

New methods for connecting and interacting with service users

During the Conference, it became clear that one of the greatest impacts of technology is changing how service providers and users can connect and interact with each other, through apps for portable devices and online support.

The website ‘Kellimni’ was presented in a panel discussion on digital tools, which offers information and help specifically for young people, including a one-to-one support feature. Its accessible and anonymous nature makes it popular, with 1,600 visitors on average per month.

From Aarhus, Denmark, a similar idea was presented, the life psychology app for young people. It provides guidance on reaching small and large life goals in a user-friendly designed app, helping to keep young people active in the labour market or in education.

In Bruges, a digital communication platform enables older persons living at home, their carers, and health and social services to communicate with each other digitally.

An integrated approach to technology

The value of taking an integrated approach, involving different services, the academic and private sectors to make smarter use of information was highlighted by Markus Werling from SAP in the opening session.

This point was reinforced during a workshop by Edenred, which showcased some examples of public and private sector collaboration to introduce new technology. Jean-Paul Raymond, from the City of Paris, and David Meulemens, from Flanders Public Employment Service, described in this workshop how by working with Edenred, they have introduced digital career vouchers, enabling people to more easily access career guidance and support at an affordable cost.

Effective implementation key for introducing new technology

The effective development and implementation of new technology was a key topic during our second plenary session, where Dennis Søndergård from the Nordic Welfare Centre presented the CONNECT project. CONNECT is a toolbox developed in collaboration with municipalities in the Nordic countries to provide guidance to local authorities on how to implement welfare technology. The toolkit is composed of 9 steps for developing and implementing welfare technology, based on best practice. The project emphasises the importance of taking a structured approach when introducing technology, to prevent new ideas from being forgotten about or wasted.

The Conference demonstrated that public social services across Europe are active in incorporating and developing new technology to respond to challenges and improve services, for example by connecting with users in new ways. However, it is also clear that there must be an emphasis on the effective implementation of new technology to ensure that the potential benefits are maximised, that professionals are properly trained, and that new technology is made accessible for users to prevent a digital divide. One of the prominent messages from the Conference is that public social services must be ready to embrace new technology, and that the sharing of experience, knowledge and strategies on technology across Europe is key to make it happen.


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