More than 600 social services leaders from 39 countries participated at the 26th European Social Services Conference in Seville. Over the 26 year life-span of the conference, this was the best attended so far and demonstrates our annual conference has consolidated itself as the international platform for social services leaders, managers and practitioners. 

In difficult economic times, the imperative to spend public money efficiently is paramount and not withstanding political choices and demands, the value of informed decision-making drawing on evidence in all its components is nowadays crucial.

Opening the conference, Andalucía’s Minister for Social Policies and Equality Maria Jose Sanchez Rubio pointed out that the regional government of Andalusia is convinced of the necessity to promote fruitful debates regarding social policies in order to ensure their future sustainability. She argued that “all public administrations must commit to improving citizens’ quality of life, fostering an increasingly advanced society that generates resources in a sustainable manner and adapted to new demands and social realities, based on a fair, social and viable model”.

Ms Rubio also spoke of the importance of ethics and science to advance social services. With 28 thematic workshops and 8 plenary sessions, the European Social Services Conference provides decision-makers and practitioners a platform to share challenges and good practice, learn from peers’ experiences in other countries, and share their own.

That is the key reason why more than 600 participants from across Europe, the United States, Israel, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and Palestine joined us in Seville. The European Social Services Conference supports innovation grounded on evidence-based knowledge sharing and development from across Europe and beyond.

The conference took place at a time of social policy change a year after the launch of the European Pillar of Social Rights. Governments across Europe are implementing reforms either related to the devolution of social services or the recognition of social rights. The regional government of Andalucía, which supported the conference in partnership with Seville County Council and La Caixa Banking Foundation, is now immersed in the implementation of its new social services legislation launched in 2016. Other regions in Spain are now in the process of assessing their current social services legislations or approving new acts. A series of decentralisation reforms related to social services and social care are being implemented in The Netherlands, Finland, Poland and Bulgaria. Therefore, discussions at the conference enabled participants to assess their own reforms, share implementation challenges, and learn about good practice. 

We believe in working collaboratively so we partnered with our members, international private sector organisations, European agencies, and Spanish foundations and IT companies to listen and learn from others as we strive towards a common goal. 

Much of the debate focused on how to move social services forward a decade after the global economic crisis and the austerity policies that resulted from it across Europe. Our themes were social investment, innovation and transformation in social services, all of which work best when they are fostered by a combination of national and local initiative, the support of private expertise, and successful people’s engagement. It became clear that investing in people and communities is key to ensure a strong social fabric to progress towards more equal societies.

Next year’s conference topic will build on these issues with a focus on quality. Watch this space for the call for workshops and registrations.