What are social services?

The INNOSERV platform takes an inclusive view of social services

A key point of reference is the concept of social services of general interest that has been proposed by the European Commission in 2006 and has since then been quoted in numerous publications by institutions and stakeholders. It includes statutory and complementary social security schemes as well as other essential services provided directly to the person (European Commission 20061, SPC 20102).

Taking this approach into account, we define innovative social services as those services that meet individuals’ needs in the areas of health, education and care in living in wider society through:

the promotion of social interaction for mutual support

the delivery of organizational arrangements for the provision of directed support to individuals or groups.


The INNOSERV platform

The INNOSERV platform will take a wide vision to reflect the complexity of the different perspectives on social services and how they work together in today’s social/health/care systems (e.g. the division of work between formal and informal care).

It will look at services as a process of socialisation by which (i) responsibility is accepted by societal institutions to support individuals in their daily life and (ii) seeing individuals not as isolated beings but as part and parcel of social entities of different kinds. More recently social services have been defined as economic ‘goods’ which can be traded.

This has challenged some more traditional views of social change to promote greater social equality, though the two perspectives are not necessarily incompatible.

This project therefore recognises that social services systems have developed as specific services and as a wider function of society as they develop in different member state economies in relation to social change and our understanding of society.

They also clearly relate to the various models of ‘social protection’ in place across the EU4, and more recently have been defined in relation to the ‘active Inclusion of people excluded from the labour market’.5

This wide scope on social services will then be focussed on key developments through empirical and analytical work of the consortium members.


Innovation in social services

Innovation in social services will be investigated in the fields of health, education, and welfare and across these fields by focusing on: (i) the practical cooperation and networking of actors across different service fields, (ii) the emergence of hybrid organizations which combine features of NPOs/NGOs, profit-organizations, and volunteer associations; (iii) the collaboration of professionals from different disciplines with policy makers, users, and volunteers.

The consortium will not only focus on highly differentiated service sectors but will also seek innovation across sector boundaries (‘blurring boundaries’). Crossing the sectors can reveal new ways for increasing access to services and better adjustment to users needs, reduced costs and increased effectiveness (including wider social costs/benefits in terms of transaction costs), the quality of provision, reduction of individual/household risk.


Key understanding of ‘innovation’

The key understanding of ‘innovation’ that is supposed in this project stresses the objective dimension of innovation and is derived from improvements in the effectiveness of any form of social service that improves the quality of social society.

This can be through:

•    New principles

•    New forms of organization

•    New sources of financial investment and resource

•    New actors

•    New research based knowledge

•    Development of new skills and services

•    Uses of new technology.


There are many and various origins of innovations like for instance:

•    Changing standards in social norms and social expectations (sometimes – not always – being promoted in legislation and resourced through taxation)

•    New scientific knowledge and technological capacity

•    Creative swiping of ideas and knowledge from other sectors

•    New opportunities in communication and social organization

•    New ways of understanding social resources and how they can be organised to provide mutual social support

•    Commercial organizations seeking to exploit new commercial opportunities

•    Developments in the integration and ‘cross fertilisation’ of the delivery of health, education and welfare services themselves.

The analysis presented so far leads to an identification of criteria from theory which are to be complemented by insights gained from innovative practices.



We will look for innovation by using three concomitant criteria:

•    Newness in the process of service delivery or in the content of the service. Do the services appear to do something new in the field of social services? Are they linked to new managerial models? (“what?”)

•    Effectiveness. Are the new services more effective as the previous ones? Are they more effective from a user perspective as well? (“to whom?”)

•    Level of cost. Are they more cost effective? (“what and how?”)

As important as these first criteria are the potential wider effects of any new innovation:

•    Innovative developments in political and social policy (especially relating to gender, family, social organization, social protection, age, ethnicity and culture) informing and being informed by new social services requirements

•    New mechanisms for the delivery of social services ranging from personalisation to new forms of organization across social and geographical boundaries (e.g. through the internet)

•    Mechanisms for evaluating financial and social costs and benefits relating to new social norms and expectations

•    Scientific and technological advances impacting on social services

•    Advances in data and information management facilitating the organization and delivery of resources and services

•    New forms of resourcing and organising social services including new forms of collective and social enterprise, social insurance schemes and non-profit organizational arrangements, reorganization and development of national and local government services and commercial developments in social services provision.



Site en construction

Site en construction.