What is the role of social protection in the global sustainable development agenda? This was the key question that we tried to address at the conference ‘Leaving no one behind in Armenia’, which took place in Yerevan on 31 October-2 November alongside speakers from the World Bank, UNICEF and the ILO.

Alfonso Lara Montero, Chief Executive of the European Social Network (ESN), spoke at the event to explain how local social services play a key role in social welfare systems across the world in the implementation of innovative solutions to address social and systemic challenges.

Speaking about the importance of the participation of ESN at the meeting, ESN’s CEO said “Our work in sharing knowledge, practice and experience between professionals covers countries at different stages of development of their social services. Therefore, our participation at this event forms part of our commitment to support countries whose social services systems have been established more recently.”

Responding to social challenges through innovation

Social innovation is all about finding new solutions to current challenges. It is a key component for making social policies and social services effective and financially sustainable, ensuring that Europe is prepared for an ageing population, and more resilient to shocks such as the financial crisis.

An important element of innovation in social services is evidence-based practice. “Evidence-based practice involves the gathering of accurate data on what practices work and with what effect and is crucial for informing decision-making in social services”, said Mr Montero at the event. Our toolkit sets out how social services can implement it in practice.

Harnessing technology and data for innovation

Digital technology is a driving force for the implementation of innovative practice in social services, allowing more robust data analysis, and greater efficiency.

Alfonso reviewed some examples on how technology is currently supporting innovation in local social services across Europe. One example is the implementation of data analytics which is helping local social services working with families to prevent child placements in some UK councils.

Another example is the digitalisation of casework for child and youth protection in countries like Denmark or The Netherlands, which is improving coordination between professionals in different services, common procedures, and has led to a better overview of each individual case.

These examples demonstrate that social services, who work directly with vulnerable people in our societies, are using technology to harness data for making more informed policy decisions, and to improve the quality of their services.

The topic of quality in social services will be explored at our 27th European Social Services Conference in Milan on 5-7 June 2019. This will be a key opportunity to find out more on how social services are innovating in the field to improve the quality of the care they provide and the lives of those they serve.

Policy-makers wishing to implement the Sustainable Development Agenda should therefore take into account the importance of innovation in social services for driving forward progress in promoting inclusion in our societies.