On top of the warm hospitality from the Maltese government, its stunning surroundings and the thought-provoking discussions held over the 3 days, this special edition will also be remembered for its record-high number of participants, the passionate stories of service users and some of our very own digital innovation.
Over 530 delegates from 32 countries
The ESSC is a unique opportunity for ESN members and other professionals to come together and connect with the latest issues in social welfare.
Over 530 delegates from 36 countries – an all-time high – came together in Valletta to explore how innovation and technology can help create better social services for the future. 50% of these delegates were representatives of ESN member organisations showcasing the ever-increasing expansion of the network and with it the growing appetite for European cross-border collaboration in what are challenging times for the European project.
ESN member organisations also contributed strongly to the diverse workshop programme, which this year showcased over 30 practices from 25 countries in 4 separate breakout sessions.
Putting service users first – we’re all responsible
One of the key themes of the conference was service user empowerment and the co-production of services. At ESN, we believe that the journey starts with them, for instance at events like these, and we were delighted to invite a range of service users from different backgrounds to share their experiences across the programme.
Charlotte de Vilmorin, a previous winner of the European Social Innovation Competition and one of our keynote speakers, spoke of her experience as a wheelchair user, describing how she set up the social enterprise Wheeliz to tackle some of the daily mobility challenges she faced in Paris.
Gulwali Passarlay, a former refugee from Afghanistan and Hoang Nguyen, a young unaccompanied refugee from Vietnam, shared their emotional stories in a panel discussion dedicated to innovative ways to integrate refugees.
Harry Fairchild, the world’s first ever table tennis coach with Down’s Syndrome, took the inaugural Project Forum by storm and spoke passionately of his love for table tennis and the power of sport as an enabler of social inclusion.
Dilyana Deneva, service user and representative of the European Network of Independend Living (ENIL) emphasised the fact that the rights of people with disabilities are the same of all the other citizens and that an inclusive society has to ensure independent living for all.
Marianne Carlberg, an 86 year-old service user from Sweden, shared her experience of the Testbed programme in Norrköping and said that being introduced to new technologies through an ipad "feels like a whole new world has appeared, one in which I can take part in the society in a new and exciting way" .
With further participation in the conference from other service users, this year showed a growing interest in service user participation in social services design, highlighting the importance of their active contribution to discussions at such events.
Technology and innovation – all at your fingertips
The conference was also a space to learn about a range of digital tools for improving services across Europe. We saw no better way of doing this than by making the event live and digital.
The new conference mobile app enhanced delegates’ experience by enabling them to take part in popular live Q&As during the plenary sessions, by personalising their schedule and by allowing them to join discussion channels and connect with other delegates digitally.
With a total of 533 mobile app users, delegates showed an appetite not just for innovating services from the top but also further down the bottom – with panellists, with service users and with fellow colleagues ... all from their fingertips!