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The potential for technology to revolutionise the planning, delivery, and evaluation of social services is immense. However, when digital tools are developed without consulting social service professionals and end users, they often prove inadequate and may even exacerbate the digital divide.

Addressing this issue, the 32nd European Social Services Conference (ESSC) will spotlight best practices and pioneering strategies for co-creating digital social inclusion across Europe. The event, set to take place in Antwerp, Belgium, from June 26-28, 2024, promises to be a hub of innovation and collaboration.

Integrating Services 

One of the primary benefits of digitalising social services is the seamless integration of various services. Beneficiaries often face challenges when they have to navigate through multiple service providers and channels to get the help they need. To tackle this, an interactive session at the conference will feature Microsoft’s collaboration with the City of Brussels. They developed BRUCE[1], a platform that serves as a single point of contact for government services. This initiative enhances user participation and autonomy, simplifies processes, and optimises the experience for both end-users and employees. 

Revolutionising Case Management with Digital Tools

Digital tools have revolutionised case management in social services. Advanced systems enable social workers to track and manage cases efficiently, ensuring beneficiaries don’t fall through the cracks. These platforms centralise case files, schedule appointments, and track progress, integrating with other service providers for a holistic approach. At the ESSC, attendees will explore cutting-edge solutions that enhance collaboration, reduce administrative burdens, and improve service delivery.

In the Innovation Zone, Tietoevry will present "Digital Citizen Services," demonstrating how Sweden's social care sector uses digital tools to engage citizens and streamline case handling. Additionally, the panel discussionCo-production for Digital Inclusion,’ will feature the Foundation for Social Welfare Services in Malta, presenting a national case management system that supports professionals and focuses on social inclusion.

These sessions will showcase how digital innovations can make social services more efficient, integrated, and user-friendly.

Transformative Power of AI in Social Services

Artificial intelligence (AI) holds transformative potential for social services. By leveraging AI, agencies can analyse vast amounts of data to identify patterns and predict needs, enabling proactive intervention. During the ESSC, several sessions will delve into the role of AI in social services. For example, a notable presentation in the Innovation Zone will be "Gen AI for Social Services: Project from the Paris City-Council" by Ernst & Young (EY), which will reveal how the City of Paris used AI to streamline access to social grants by featuring user-friendly interfaces and smart algorithms that help beneficiaries understand their entitlements and access necessary support. 

AI-powered tools can also automate routine tasks, freeing up social workers to focus on complex cases requiring human empathy and judgment. For instance, AI can streamline the assessment process by quickly evaluating eligibility for services, thus reducing wait times and improving efficiency. During the thematic panel discussion Co-production for Digital Inclusion’ the Third Sector Platform of Catalonia, Spain, will explain how their newly developed AI radar identifies which automated decision-making mechanisms are currently being implemented by public authorities and which groups are most impacted.

Co-creation and Digital Inclusion

The conference will host a plenary session, incorporating the two intertwined concepts of co-creation and digital inclusion. When combined, these can foster innovative solutions to address social challenges while ensuring equitable access to digital technologies and opportunities for all individuals. This session will explore how co-creation can be used to design and implement digital inclusion initiatives tailored to the specific needs of underserved communities.

The ESSC promises to be a pivotal event for sharing knowledge, fostering innovation, and driving the future of inclusive digital social services in Europe. By embracing digital innovation, integrating services, leveraging AI, and prioritising the voice of professionals and the end users in co-creating new technologies, organisations can ensure that social services are not only more efficient and effective but also more equitable and accessible to all individuals, regardless of their background or circumstances.

Join the 550+ delegates from 35 countries already registered for the 32nd European Social Services Conference. Register now to be part of this transformative event and contribute to shaping the future of social services in Europe.

[1] BRUssels embraCEs you!