Leadership, Performance and Innovation working group

The European Social Network’s (ESN) Leadership, Performance and Innovation working group looked at strategic partnerships with other public services at its fifth meeting last May in London. The meeting brought together experts from education, health and employment to present the view from their sector on social exclusion and inequality in our societies. Working group members complemented each expert presentation with an example of cooperation between social services and the other public services.

Katarzyna Kubacka of the OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation highlighted the contribution of (good) education in school and outside school to social outcomes such as better health and civic engagement. She described some initial findings from research showing that non-cognitive (soft, emotional) skills are at least if not more important than cognitive skills in determining these outcomes. The OECD is pursuing research in this area in the years ahead. This was a fascinating way of looking at the determinants of social problems faced by some users of social services and raises questions about how social services can work with schools and others in education to support children in the acquisition of cognitive and non-cognitive skills.

EuroHealthNet’s director, Clive Needle, focused his input on health inequalities, noting that no country has “cracked this question”. He noted that most countries’ health systems are in fact focused on the treatment of sickness and disease, not on the promotion of health equity. Social services have a part in this in terms of personal social care (notably for older people) but they may also work with users who have poor health in facilitating access to medical care. He pointed out that WHO Europe agreed a very broad definition of the health system as including all actors that have an impact on health, so all social services.

“It´s not only the lack of a job, but a multiplicity of other problems, that face job-seekers,” – with these words Matthias Schulze-Böing from the German Association of JobCentres, opened his input. He described the approach of the JobCentres as focusing on the person in the context of his/her family and community. The JobCentres are capable of providing access for clients to childcare, psycho-social counselling, debt advice, drug rehabilitation and assistance with housing among others. The group recognised that getting a job is associated with having a normal life and certainly an aspiration for many users of social services. Though some examples of cooperation were cited, most countries had not achieved Germany’s “fragile consensus” to prioritise work.

In a concluding discussion, the group came back to its own sector and discussed what was unique about social work. Some felt that social work tends to have a secondary status compared to other public services, whose roles are more readily understood and less controversial; others felt that social work was well-regarded. All believed that we had to champion the unique mission of social services whilst better understanding other professionals’ viewpoints and working better with them. As senior managers, the group felt they had an opportunity to take the lead locally in promoting social services as a valuable partner.

Find out more about the work of ESN's Leadership, Performance, Innovation working group and read the 'Contemporary issues in the public management of social services in Europe' series. ESN members can access the presentations from all meetings of the working group in the Projects section of the Members' Area.