From 28-30 September, over 300 directors of social services, policymakers and other stakeholders attended the annual conference of the French National Association of Directors of Social Care and Health at the local level (ANDASS) hosted for the first time by the City of Paris. The conference explored the concept of innovation through eclectic site visits around Paris, interactive workshops and panel discussions. The need to work better together across departments and sectors, coupled with the need to collaborate better with citizens and service users, were some of the key messages that came out of the conference.

Fostering collaboration and citizen participation

Social innovation can mean many different things depending on the context or sector. In public services, innovation can refer to new approaches to government policymaking (e.g. a design-based approach to policymaking), new methods to planning services (e.g. evidence-based practice), new innovative practices of service provision…the list goes on. Deputy Mayor of Paris Dominique Versini described innovation as a move towards a “more collaborative approach, based on citizen involvement and transversality”.

Building a more active and productive society

ESN CEO John Halloran provided a European perspective on discussions, emphasising the need to promote innovative solutions within services.  More than just a series of individual and isolated projects, successful innovation involves working creatively and caringly to improve lives through user-centred approaches. Through innovative examples such as the integration of services across Europe, new models of care for older people in Denmark or the use of new technology in Harrow Council (UK), John reiterated the need to work across traditional service and sector boundaries in order to make a real difference to people’s lives.

Learning from other sectors and from the outside

Design thinking, innovation labs, social enterprise – these were just some of the ‘outsider’ approaches discussed in a thought-provoking final plenary session. Eric Dehaudt from L’Oreal’s Innovation Lab introduced the audience to their ‘design thinking’ approach to research and development, an approach focused primarily on the needs of the consumer.  Charlotte de Vilmorin, founder and director of social business Wheeliz (and winner of the European Social Innovation Competition 2015), presented her car-sharing platform for wheelchair users which she founded to address the lack of affordable specialised taxi services in France.

In a short but compelling presentation, Charlotte’s own experience as a wheelchair user summed up what innovation could mean in practice: a citizen, a service user, an entrepreneur, a professional finding new ways of improving people’s lives.

The 25th European Social Services Conference taking place on 26-28 June in Valletta (Malta) will expand on these discussions by exploring how new innovative practices and technology can help create better local social services for the future. This event will bring together over 400 delegates from across Europe and will present cutting edge practice examples as well as all the latest knowhow in social policy. Find out how you can contribute to next year’s programme.  

David Scurr
European Social Services Conference Manager