The European Commission has acknowledged the potential of innovation for promoting effective social interventions. A social innovation may approach specific social demands of vulnerable groups, broader social challenges or systemic change. To help tackle them, the European Commission launched the Europe 2020 Strategy and the Social Investment Package with guidance for national governments to innovate and reform policy based on evidence.

In this context, the European Social Network (ESN), together with more than 50 stakeholders, participated at the seminar Public Sector Innovation, organised by the Directorate General for Research and Innovation of the European Commission, which took place in Brussels on 18 September. The seminar was inspired by the work of the Expert Group on Public Sector Innovation and its 2013 report Powering European Sector Innovation: Towards a new architecture, which makes a case for both financial and non-financial gains from investing in public sector innovation. The organisers described the current situation as the “the perfect storm” for social innovation due to decreasing resources and increasing users’ expectations. Social services are affected by these changes as the drive towards more transparency and co-creation sets the course towards stronger implementation of digital technologies, opportunities for sharing data and partnership development.

ESN has recently looked at the drivers for innovation in social services in a recent paper, Promoting social innovation in the public sector: Investment, innovation, impact. The paper highlights the appropriateness, novelty and relevant evidence of needs, efficiency and effectiveness as tools to empower policy and decision-makers to promote social innovation. Likewise, the report highlights that “a social innovation practice needs to foresee the measurement of impact, as this will allow social policy to move forward towards a more effective social welfare provision.” Encouraging innovation in the public sector and turning the public sector into an enabler for innovation have also been drivers of ESN's previous work, such as Innovation, research and evidence-based practice.

Members of the European Social Network have received recognition for their innovative practices – at last year’s European Public Sector Award, ESN member Barcelona County Council was featured as an example of ‘best practice’. Working together with the municipalities in the province, Barcelona County Council has generated 254 new work placements by integrating second generation tele care technologies into its social services structures for the elderly. This technology has enabled monitoring users through calls, mobile units visits and area coordinators, which play a key preventive role.

As highlighted by Alfonso Lara Montero, ESN Policy Director, “these examples prove that measuring the innovative capacity of a social intervention requires evaluating and demonstrating its beneficial effects, with a view to sustain quality over time and assess its potential replicability.