Social innovation in social services


In 1997 I returned to Spain after several years living in Ecuador. For our family it was the moment of greatest vulnerability and risk of social exclusion in our history. The welfare state helped us. At the employment office, both my wife and I got job orientation and a monthly salary to support us until we found work. Our two daughters started going to public school totally free and we immediately had access to free health services. However, we had to find housing on our own and we did not have support from social services for the care of our daughters or our community inclusion. Four pillars of the welfare state served us but two did not, one of them social services, because they were very weak. From then until now the situation has not changed much, there has not been a great innovation or a great development (scaling up of innovations) in social services.

Usually, social innovation is distinguished from technological innovation. Take, for example, the fields of health or mobility. We easily distinguish technological innovations (a new technique for surgical operations or a new motor for buses) from social innovations (which have more to do with the inclusion of agents and participatory organization in each of these sectors). Obviously, an innovation can be technological and social simultaneously.

The problem in social services is that there is no clear delimitation of the sector, that it is a very poorly articulated area and that we do not know what its value chain is. I see it as a border area in the welfare state with different configurations in different countries. This is a very problematic context for technological innovation and for distinguishing technological innovation from social innovation and promoting both.

In any case, for me, at this time, the most interesting innovations in social services have to do with preventive, proactive, relational and close care, supports and interventions in diverse communities with the support of digital technology that complement the autonomy and relationships of all the persons. Also with the vertical (multilevel) integration between different responsibilities and horizontal (intersectoral) integration with health, employment, education and other branches of services.

(The drawing is by Robin Murray.)

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