On 7 December 2020, ESN held the second meeting of its working group on digitalisation of social services. It became clear from the discussions that social services are ready to invest in digitalisation, if this means they can better support people using services. The Covid-19 pandemic has further encouraged social services authorities to explore digitalisation and its benefits to service improvement.

Responding to Covid-19: Public social service investment in digitalisation

During the 2020 working group meeting, the results of ESN’s questionnaire on the use of, and investment in, technological tools during the Covid-19 pandemic were presented by Martin Duggan, an adviser to the Canadian government in their digitalisation programme. What emerged from the questionnaire that we launched with our members is that public social services have been investing in digitalisation during the Covid-19 crisis, especially in warehousing and predictive analytics for future demand forecasting and risk profiling.

Participants discussed examples of the use of data to analyse and improve the delivery of social services. For instance, in the Northern Spanish region of Asturias, a digital system to collect near time data from care homes was developed to help decision-makers transfer resources and staff between services. ESN’s partner IBM presented an app combining analytics for social inclusion, supporting former veterans in their transition to civilian life, for instance in finding a job.

Other examples of investments in the digitalisation of social services presented at the meeting include programmes on integrated delivery of care and tools to promote independent living. IBM presented an example of how digitalisation is contributing to a large-scale integration of health and social care involving data and service management in four Finnish regions. In Riga (Latvia), the social services department has been installing detection sensors in care homes to flag up warning messages for staff and care managers if residents fall or do not move for a while. In the UK, Hampshire has been the first local authority to use ‘cobots’, a robotic device that assists people who have care needs and their carers with the physical component of their job, such as helping people to stand up from bed.

Social services ready to continue investing in digitalisation

One thing is clear: Public social services are ready to innovate and continue investing in technological tools to improve their services. Public social services authorities have been exploring a range of possibilities to address challenges such as funding technology innovations and training staff to become familiar with digital improvements. Covid-19 has created incredible disruption, but it has also brought about the transformations we have been speaking about for many years and will now need to be implemented.