The value of informed decision-making drawing on evidence has gained a new momentum in the social field. There has been an increasing emphasis on social innovation, social investment and social impact. In particular, how evaluation methodologies may provide policy makers and services managers with an evidence-base, and so to improve the impact and effectiveness of social and related services.


The European Social Network (ESN) has been working on aspects related to evidence-based policy and practice in public social services since 2012. The working group on Leadership, Performance and Innovation devoted a specific session to this theme and as a result, ESN published the paper Contemporary issues in the public management of social services in Europe: innovation, research and evidence-based practice. In 2014, ESN launched a Panel on Applied Evidence in Social Services, consisting of ESN members working on applied research and selected stakeholders, to discuss the evidence-based policy and practice phenomenon in the field of social services across Europe. At the panel’s first meeting, participants assessed the concepts of social investment, social innovation, social experimentation and social impact and their added value, how impact is best measured and the links between research and social policy and practice. In 2015, ESN worked with Ann Buchanan, Oxford University based researcher, to further expand our work on evidence-based social policy and practice. A forum of applied researchers and practitioners met to review and refine this work in October 2015. As a result, we have recently launched “Evidence-based social services: Toolkit for planning & evaluating social services”.


The modernisation of public social services is placing an increasing emphasis on evidence with regard to decision-making, service contracting and delivery, and evaluation. The European Commission recognised in the 2013 Social Investment Package (SIP) the need to test social policies and services to favour the most effective, and gave Member States guidance on more efficient and effective social policies in response to the significant challenges they faced, particularly as a consequence of the economic crisis and demographic ageing. The European Commission is also increasingly prominent in supporting research and innovation grounded on evidence-based knowledge sharing. Impact has also become a favoured element among directors and financers of public services, who want to see evidence that investment in a particular public service made a difference. This approach has also been favoured by governments, and as such an important trend in the past decade has been the promotion of evidence-based policy and practice; for example, through the establishment of institutions, which are funded to institutionalise informing evidence-based policy making and practice (clearinghouses).


ESN’s practice library brings together examples from across Europe on methods to promote the value of evidence and innovation, including practice examples from the ESN’s seminar and the European Social Services Conference.

Key ESN Resources

External Resources

For more information on our work on Evidence and innovation, please contact ESN Policy Director Alfonso Lara Montero.