On 7-8 April, the 4th IESI expert workshop took place on the topic of ICT enabled social innovation in support of the implementation of the EU Social Investment Package. IESI (ICT Enabled Social Investment) is a project led by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre aimed at exploring the role of ICT in promoting social innovation, specifically in social services. ESN’s Policy Director Alfonso Lara Montero, who is a member of the advisory board, reflects on the key issues addressed at the meeting.

What is the relevance of the IESI project for social services?

The IESI project is very relevant in the framework of the social investment agenda because it has two main objectives. First, it systematically maps ICT enabled social services, specifically those with an integration component. Second, it intends to assess their effectiveness. This is achieved through a proposed and tested methodological framework which assesses the social and economic impact of these initiatives. .

It was clear from the case studies that ICT plays a significant role in improving processes that are believed to deliver better outcomes for clients and service users. For instance, ICT can contribute to building client pathways, integrating a number of services in one platform or helping case workers and case managers to manage their caseloads. Though the analysis presented at the meeting suggested that ICT is a guarantor of sustainability of the welfare system itself, there are other factors that are key to sustainability, such as a supporting policy, stakeholders’ commitment, joint professional training and leadership. All of these were identified and assessed in our recent report on integrated social services.

ICT is therefore an enabling factor that can contribute to delivering organisational and structural reform, but it must be looked at in the context of other enabling factors, too. One of the key difficulties for researchers is to isolate the specific impact of ICT in delivering better outcomes for service users. For this be achieved, counterfactual impact evaluations of those interventions with and without ICT may need to be developed.

Next steps

Next steps include an in-depth review of selected case studies and further testing of the evaluation framework. These issues will certainly feature in a session on integrated care that will take place at the European Social Services Conference in The Hague in June.