Co-production, design thinking and person-centred care are just some of the innovative concepts used to describe a more participative and inclusive form of service provision, one built around the end user. In social services, it entails a shift from a top-down to a more bottom-up approach focused on planning services with rather than merely for the service user.

At the 25th European Social Services Conference, the need to create social services through the active participation of users featured prominently.

Going ‘bottom-up’: working with citizens to improve services

Jean-Paul Raymond, Director of Social Services in the City of Paris, talked about a bottom-up approach in public policy planning and delivery, for example through participatory budgets that challenged the Parisian administration to do things differently. Mr Raymond argued that a change of management culture “based on initiative, creativity and collective responsibility” was required to effectively implement this new approach.

Jaideep Prabhu, from the University of Cambridge, explained how the West could learn from developing countries such as India, which are accustomed to doing more with less. To Jaideep Prabhu, good public services can only be designed by putting citizens first and by understanding their concerns and issues within their own context.

Lessons from Europe: social inclusion through co-production

In a rich and diverse workshop programme, practices from Ireland, France, the UK and Austria showcased how co-production and other user-centred approaches can be implemented to create better social services.

In Ireland, projects run by the Health Service Executive and Genio Dementia Programme put personalised support at the core. People with dementia were provided with a real opportunity to contribute to the design of initiatives at development stage, and throughout the lifetime of the project as initiatives were planned and implemented.

The Ageing Better programme in Leeds called ‘Time to Shine’ tackles isolation of older people through co-production. Comprising a consultation of 656 older people, carers, volunteers and other paid workers through workshops, focus groups and interviews, ‘Time to Shine’ led to a co-produced programme designed by key stakeholders and older people in Leeds.

The City of Norrkoping in Sweden presented their ‘Testbed Norrkoping’ project, which focuses on the inclusion of older people in innovation processes by testing new digital solutions directly with them.

The Vienna Social Fund, in collaboration with the consultancy Wonderwerk, presented an innovative project based on the design-thinking method involving the participation of 230 disabled people. Design thinking places the inclusion of service users at the heart of service design as shown by the 230 disabled people, who were included in all stages of project development. Six new services were ideated and tested out as a result of the project.

Seine-Maritime, a French local authority in the Normandy region, presented how service users and professionals worked together to co-produce and test out three practical tools: a mutual contract for labour market inclusion between minimum income beneficiaries and the local authority; a mapping of local social stakeholders and contact points; and a digital exchange platform between beneficiaries.

The challenges ahead

The conference highlighted that public social services across Europe are already active in making the necessary shift towards co-production. It also showed a considerable appetite to engage with these innovative approaches. However, the transition is a challenging one.

Dilyana Deneva, a service user from Bulgaria, pointed out that one should not confuse co-production with mere consultation. Indicators should therefore not only look at what is being done to involve service users, but also how service users’ active participation is being carried out.

This then raises the question of how to measure and define the success of such an approach. This implies a shift of culture and the need to improve the capacity of staff to work this way with service users, while also creating an enabling environment to make the participation of service users a reality.


Read all the news articles:

More resoruces: