The European Social Network (ESN) launched a Working Group on Social Services Digitalisation to identify ways in which digital advances have improved public social services across Europe and determine how they might take advantage of digitalisation in the future. We conducted a questionnaire and a series of meetings with our members where it became clear 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 case data management and service improvement, as discussed in our briefing ‘Transforming social services through digitalisation’.

In this publication, we outline how public social services have been investing in digitalisation during the Covid-19 crisis, especially in warehousing, predictive analytics for future demand forecasting and remote monitoring. Many public authorities are looking further at the integration of health and social care data, with case management providing the opportunity for integrated services across health and social care.

Examples of the use of data to analyse and improve the delivery of social services include, amongst others:

  • digital tools to collect near-time data to help decision-makers transfer resources across services;
  • apps combining analytics for social inclusion, such as support in finding a job;
  • machine and deep learning techniques that process the text and make proposals for the professionals to support them in decisions about interventions, services and benefits.

Other examples of investments in social services digitalisation include programmes on integrated care delivery and social service enhancements and innovations to promote independent living.

These may involve:

  • small to large-scale integration of health and social care involving data and service management;
  • detection sensors to flag up warning messages for staff and managers;
  • the use of robotic devices that assist people who have care needs and their carers.

These findings also involve a number of recommendations, including:

  • how the needs of populations with whom social services work are integrated in data and case management;
  • co-development with a mixed team of developers and practitioners;
  • the importance of considering bias to develop ethical data and case management, especially where ‘big data’ is involved.

”Covid-19 has created incredible disruption, but it has also brought about the transformations we have been speaking about for years and will now need to be implemented. It has emerged that public social services will invest in existing and new digital solutions to improve their services. This is perhaps one of the most significant findings and one that brings a new dimension to the work of ESN in digitalisation.” - Alfonso Lara Montero, ESN’s CEO

There is an opportunity for us to carry out further work. For example, in terms of legal structures to support data sharing, usage and integration; improving standards; practitioners training; digitalisation for work practice and users support; and enhancements to support people’s independent living.