The future of social services innovation

04.02.2014 Blog

Last Wednesday, the INNOSERV team hosted its final workshop in Paris, marking the end of this two year project looking at social services innovations across Europe.  This was a great opportunity to hear from the consortium and reflect on their work together.

Françoise Waintrop kicked off the meeting with a keynote introducing us to us her work as Secretariat General for Public Action modernisation in the French government. The role of this department is to promote a culture of innovation and to make possible radical innovation in public policies. Françoise explained that the department takes a strongly ethnographic led approach in order to better understand users and their needs. They have also adopted techniques such as customer journey mapping to work out how current provision of services fails or succeeds. This can reveal some interesting findings about how people relate to social services at significant junctures in life. By way of example, she explained that their work highlighted that when someone’s partner or relative dies, when they go to report this, the deceased’s social security card is cut up in front of them. Analysing the citizen experience can help uncover situations such as these, and create consensus for doing things differently.

Following this presentation, members of the INNOSERV consortium introduced us to the Research Agenda they have developed as an output of a project. This identifies key questions for further research, and is structured around seven key themes:

  • User centred services and approaches. How do the personalisation of services and the resulting new forms of cooperation lead to new tensions? What new competences will professionals need to develop to respond to this shift?
  • Innovations and organisational as well as institutional development. What kinds of resources are needed for institutionalising innovative projects? How can different management approaches enable innovation and make it visible? Is it really true that there is an innovation deficit in the public sector?
  • Framing social services in relation to innovation. How does policy talk about innovation affect the identification of needs as well as eventual service provision? Does the EU currently embody and voice multiple understandings of ‘innovation’?
  • The governance of innovation. What are the governance challenges presented by new kinds of hybrid provider organisation?
  • The influence of national, regional and local contexts. How are innovations embedded in cultural contexts? What are the cultural barriers that prevent innovations from travelling?
  • New technologies. As these adopt an increasingly important role in social services, how will they change the relationship between professionals and users?
  • Measuring outcomes, quality and challenges. How do we measure both improvements and unintended effects from innovative social services? How can/should users be involved in these evaluations?

One of the most interesting aspects about the INNOSERV project from my perspective has been their approach to dissemination and innovative outputs. A key part of the consortium’s proposal was that they would use ‘visual sociology’ to convey some of the key ideas behind social service innovation. This led them to develop a set of 20 videos, each showing one of the European case study examples they looked at. The videos have a high production quality and they are recommended viewing if you haven’t seen them already. The team saw the videos not just as an output of their research, but also as an input to it. They were used at workshop to prompt discussion and to get stakeholders to think through what innovation they saw in each of the case study examples. INNOSERV have now developed a free app for iPhone and Android where you can view all 20 videos in English, German and French.

Many thanks to our colleagues at INNOSERV for hosting last week and producing such a rich research agenda for other EU projects to draw on.