At the European Social Services Conference (5-7 June, Milan) plenary speakers and delegates shared innovative ideas and insightful experiences on how they improve services through evaluation.
Attendees at the Conference agreed that evaluation is an important building block in social services for improving quality of life for people. During the Conference we explored different trends and ideas in service evaluations, from the need to harness data, to a shift in focus towards outcomes.
The Italian Experience
We got a detailed picture of how quality social services have developed in the host country of the Conference, Italy, from Ugo de Ambrogio, Director of Social Policies, Institute for Social Research (Italy).
He explained how the importance of evaluation in social services has fluctuated, reaching a low point in the economic crisis, and only making a comeback recently. Ugo explained that evaluation is critical for quality social services and should be maintained despite budgetary constraints.
Can Data Support Quality Improvement?
Joanne McMeeking, Head of Improving Care Experiences, Centre for Excellence for Children’s Care and Protection (CELCIS), Scotland, added the importance of harnessing data as a catalyst in service improvement.
She specifically referred to the PACE programme in Scotland that is helping local authorities to achieve permanence and stability for children. Data is taking a central role in this project by demonstrating progress and gaps, for example by illustrating the timeline of children’s progress and highlighting delays in the system. However, Joanne cautioned that when using data it is essential to remember the human side of the numbers, each data point refers to a child.
The use of evaluations and data for improving services and people’s quality of life was also highlighted in some of the 28 workshop sessions held at the Conference.
SOS Children’s Villages International introduced their methodology for measuring the social impact of children’s services. This methodology measures the impact of different interventions on a child, the community, and the financial return on investment. The tool helps service managers to identify what works, specific issues to address, and helps them to make the case for social investment.
Putting Outcomes First
One provocative idea was put forward at the Conference by John Bolton, Visiting Professor, Institute of Public Care (UK) who called for a new approach that focusses evaluation not on the satisfaction of the person using the service, but on their outcomes and progress towards independence. John highlighted that our current care model encourages a person to become dependent on care. This model should be replaced by one that enables the person to take more control over their lives through rehabilitation services.
In addition to this alternative concept of quality, delegates took home messages on the importance of evaluations for ensuring quality, methodologies for doing this, and the key driving role that data can play in the process.