Aim and Scope
The Helmond and OZO verbindzorg pilot project focuses on empowering citizens’ self-reliant abilities and participation, with the aim of helping long-term unemployed citizens to find a new job based on their skills and on a permanent contract and for a chosen duration (Gemeente Helmond, 2017). The formal goals of the Helmond initiative were simple, according to the interviewed respondents: To develop a new digital infrastructure that would allow the municipality to support the newly established neighbourhood teams, to foster interaction between professionals, and most of all create a more ‘citizen-oriented’ self-management system.
Forms of collaboration
In the project, multidisciplinary teams set up a digital platform for the personalized support plan for the client. The support plan is central for the digital infrastructure of the service offered in Helmond (Gemeente Helmond, 2017). A support plan is an initial mapping of the personal situation of the citizen, which is initiated when he or she gets unemployed. A professional from the Helmond municipality maps, together with the client, in what way the municipality can support him or her. Different types of help are available. The digital support facilitates (the platform and the app) the support plan in the sense that 1) all information is only filled out once (by the client), 2) the client can manage the information herself/himself, and can indicate his/her main ambition, and 3) the digital tools facilitates communication and coordination between the involved professionals and forces them to develop an integral approach rather than a single approach from one profession. The digital portfolio with all the information of the client and service providers can also be monitored to measure the success of the policy actions of civil servants and services of the professionals, which mostly come from organizations outside the administration of Helmond municipality.
In relation to local unemployment policy, the city council is the main actor in decision-making. Based on the decision-making in the city council, the ‘assigned’ alderman will implement the policy. The alderman can be considered as the manager of the administrative organization. The administrative organization as such is the second stakeholder in the pilot. In the municipality of Helmond, the Social Domain department is responsible for the execution of labour market and unemployment policies. The third stakeholder is OZO verbindzorg. As the ICT partner in the pilot project, they were responsible for setting up the digital infrastructure, training professionals to work with the system, maintenance of the digital platform, and to look for bugs in the system when necessary. OZO verbindzorg is also responsible for all (online) communication between the stakeholders and for storage of communication about the clients. The fourth stakeholder group are the ‘social workers’, i.e. professionals who are a part of the neighbourhood teams and who assist the citizens in formulating their goals and the set-up of the social support plan.
The pilot project of the municipality of Helmond, which acts as the lead organisation of the project, uses mobile technology to help the long-term unemployed. In the Helmond case, politicians and civil servants believe that apps for self-management purposes, like the one they use, enable citizens to keep in touch with the municipality and neighbourhood teams independent of location and time (Publiek Denken, 2019). In this way, ICT supports the collaboration, and is used to check the efficiency and effectiveness of the municipal service delivery.
Accountability and legitimacy effects
During the product development phase, there were few political pushbacks or attempts to delegitimize the initiative (Eindhovens Dagblad, 2017). Some members of the municipal council asked critical questions in the newspapers, and these were also voiced in a debate in the Municipal council. Furthermore, there were some discussions about the project concerning the usefulness of the support plan, the digital infrastructure and the way that citizens can access the tool. The account giving process here related to functional deficiencies, e.g. a lack of certain important functions, unnecessary tools, options and functions, or a lack of customization. These discussions also concerned technical issues like the complexity of the use of the app, ‘small screen size on your mobile phone’, and the amount of battery consumption that is necessary to use the app.
Another trigger for account giving concerns are security and privacy as well as the concern about interoperability. The professionals in the neighbourhood teams are from different organizations that all have different registration systems, which follow another protocol and work routine than the new tool demands. Feedback was also given regarding a lack of interoperability with other devices, apps, web portals, or other forms of ICT access systems.
The input legitimacy is formally ensured by the city council, so is output legitimacy due to the formal decisions and their general involvement. However, their relevance in the process might be less than we think, because important others, notably professionals involved in all the welfare and employment organizations, play a more substantive role in creating the actual services and enabling admission to these. The app and social teams make this dimension of legitimacy creation even more important. By implication, professional forms of accountability need more scrutiny and research and have to be more transparent because this is what makes sense for citizens.
Lessons learned (policy managers and policymakers)
The new approach and the app was, even with problems related to restricted feedback and functional difficulties, seen to be a lot more interactive and collaborative than the previous (traditional) method. This was because the client had more control over the information and his or her ambitions, and could communicate more intensively with the professionals from care, work and other organizations during the process. In an evaluation of the new procedure and the working of the app the Municipality (Gemeente Helmond 2020) conclude that although progress have been made towards the principle 1 household-1 plan-one case manager the support to get the client quickly with the right assistance can still improve, especially by improving process management and providing more direct help to citizens.
To read more about the case study, see D8.1 Networks of account-giving in long-term unemployment collaborations in five countries report.
Eindhovens Dagblad (2017). Helmond Installeert Sociale Wijkteams voor Zorg. Retrieved from https://www.ed.nl/helmond/helmond-installeert-sociale-wijkteams-voor-zorg~a395d512/?referrer=https://www.google.com/
Gemeente Helmond. (2017). Sociale Teams en Ondersteuning voor Helmonders in de Stad. Retrieved from: https://www.helmond.nl/Media%20Helmond.nl/Documenten%20Helmond/Bewoners/Zorg%20en%20welzijn/Sociale%20teams/Folder%20Zorg%20en%20ondersteuning%20Helmond%20voor%20partijen%20in%20de%20stad.pdf
Publiek Denken (2019). Inwoners zelf aan zet. Retrieved from https://publiekdenken.nl/nieuws/algemeen/inwoners-zelf-aan-zet/
Gemeente Helmond (2020) Sociale wijkteams 2022 en verder https://www.helmond.nl/bis/2020/Raadsinformatiebrieven/RIB%20118%20Bijlage%20Nota%20sociale%20teams%202022%20en%2
About the Authors
Vidar Stevens, Mulier Institute (previously - Erasmus University Rotterdam)
Samantha Metselaar, Erasmus University of Rotterdam
Erik-Hans Klijn, Erasmus University Rotterdam