In pursuit of modernisation, social services across Europe are actively embarking on a journey of digital transformation of their systems. This endeavour involves harnessing technology and digitalisation to enhance their efficiency and effectiveness.
At this month’s European Social Services Conference (ESSC), representatives from public authorities with responsibility for social services, third sector and industry partners discussed compelling examples of how this transformation can be achieved, while also engaging in discussions on the remaining challenges that need to be addressed.
Robust digital systems
The need for establishing a robust digital public social services system was highlighted by Stathis Marinos, Senior IT Consultant at the World Bank, who explained how heterogeneity in service provision across locations or different ways of collecting data among social workers within the same location can lead to disparities in the ways in which data is recorded.
“Such inefficient and inadequate systems may result in the misallocation of public resources, an increase in mistakes, and a rise in bureaucratic processes,” Marinos remarked. Ultimately, these shortcomings contribute to lower citizen satisfaction with the overall social welfare system.
To tackle these challenges, Marinos presented the Case Compass Prototype, a toolkit to support public authorities to adopt a digital case management system in the area of social benefits and services. However, Marinos emphasised an important aspect that cannot be overlooked: financing, saying “These systems require funding. Not only to build them but mainly to make them succeed and maintain them.”
During the ESSC, notable successful case studies of effective integrated systems transformation were presented, such as those from the Faroe Islands and the Regional Government of Catalonia, which showcased the National Digitalisation Programme and the wSocial Platform, respectively. These case studies, along with others, underscored the importance of developing simplified and accessible journeys for individuals seeking social services.
To achieve this objective, the implementation of a standardised data-sharing system across departments and institutions emerged as a crucial factor. Such a system would facilitate the establishment of transparent and secure processes, establishing trust and empowerment for citizens navigating social services.
Small steps over leaps and bounds
When it comes to system transformation, Aaron Greenberg, UNICEF’s Senior Regional Advisor for Europe and Central Asia on Child Protection, emphasised that the “most value” for public social services “lies not in fancy systems but in small innovations that connect people working on social goals.”
Greenberg highlighted the application of Primero, an open-source software platform to support social services, humanitarian organisations, and development workers in effectively managing protection-related data. In Romania, it has been used to integrate three existing systems into one unified platform. This integration has proven instrumental in the identification and registration Ukrainian women and children who have fled the war.
Improving case management
In times of crises, the importance of a resilient digital public infrastructure becomes evident as it plays a vital role in ensuring the continuity of care. One striking example of this resilience can be seen in Ukraine. Kostiantyn Koshelenko, Deputy Minister of Social Policy for Digital Transformation, shared with conference attendees how Ukraine has successfully established emergency digital services during the war and is further advancing a joint social services information system.
A significant milestone has been the creation of a digital government application (Diia). Koshelenko elaborated on how this application has empowered Ukrainian citizens, many of whom are displaced, by enabling them to seamlessly access public services and receive emergency payments.
Keeping the human experience at the centre
To provide an integrated and personalised set of social care and social services that meet the expectations of people seeking support, public authorities recognise the need for digital transformation. However, in their development and implementation it is essential to prioritise human outcomes over a purely technocratic approach. By emphasising a person-centred approach, social services will ensure care and support are efficiently delivered to those in need, promoting their wellbeing and autonomy within the shortest possible time frame.