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In the aftermath of the financial crisis, the European Commission has been calling on Member States to modernise their social welfare states, and to act on the 2013 Social Investment Package’s (SIP) recommendation that social policies and services must be tested in order to favour the most effective.

It is against this backdrop that the European Social Network (ESN) launched a new report 'Evidence in public social services: An overview from practitioners and applied researchers' along with a new strand of its work focused on evidence-based practice in social services, which takes the form of the Panel on Applied Evidence, launched in 2014.

Defining evidence-based practice

Evidence-based practice can be defined as the combination of well-researched practice examples with tested experience and ethics and service user’s preferences and culture, which is used to inform the planning and delivery of appropriate services.

Another consideration is how to guarantee the usability and independence of evidence collected. ESN’s panel has identified best practice here as the involvement of all relevant stakeholders at an early stage, including researchers, practitioners and service users.

Two case studies: Denmark and The Netherlands

Denmark’s National Board of Social Services was assigned with the task of creating a Danish clearinghouse, tasked with building up administrative and organizational capacity in order to manage evidence – as a direct response to the perceived long implementation chain between policy formulation and service delivery.

The Dutch centre for social development MOVISIE has a divergent approach to evidence-based practice, which is centred around the development of a government-funded database on evidence-based interventions in social work. The database consists of 250 programmes and is organised based on three ‘assessment levels’, ranging from strong indications including randomised control trials (level 1) to first indications with a theoretical evaluation (level 3).


Applied research on effectiveness and efficiency can empower policy makers and service managers to design evidence-based policy and practices. This approach has the potential to ultimately improve the quality and focus of services for service users, while ensuring efficiency in terms of budgetary considerations. However, such an approach is not without its challenges, including the accuracy of data collection, knowledge’s sharing, coordination and validation.

Looking ahead

ESN continues its work on evidence-based policy this year with an upcoming review of assessment frameworks for social services programmes and a forum between applied researchers and practitioners; this will yield a further report with the main findings and a guide for a framework to be tested with key stakeholders.