Excellence Award: Cities Innovation for Social Change

Cities play a central role in enabling innovation due to the proximity of multiple and diverse stakeholders. Many of the social, environmental and economic challenges facing us today are exacerbated within urban areas, a pressure that often leads to greater innovation. With this headline award, ESN seeks to highlight the city that has risen to these challenges in the most innovative manner.

Find out more about the shortlisted projects


Gaming Club Gothenburg City Council, Sweden

In Gothenburg, parents with children with neuropsychiatric disabilities have been reporting to social services that their children do not go to school, do not participate in social activities, and instead, they stay at home playing computer games. Therefore, the city of Gothenburg implemented an innovative project to address this issue which was increasingly impacting young kids with disabilities. Gaming Club offers a space to these young people to come out of their homes and play games together with their peers. Establishing this first contact outside of the home, step by step, young people are reintegrated back into school and society. A questionnaire evaluation carried out by the University of Skövde with the target group shows that young people feel empowered and supported through the Gaming Club to re-integrate in society by being viewed as part of the solution rather than the problem.

Day Centre ‘Šviesa’: Self-Advocacy for People with Intellectual Disabilities

City of Vilnius, Lithuania 

The Day Centre ‘Šviesa’ offers an innovative set of tools and services that promote inclusion through self–advocacy. The Day Centre ‘Šviesa’ changes the lives of people with disabilities by ensuring their rights, inclusion and self-empowerment while tackling society’s negative attitudes towards them. One of these tools is self-advocacy training, where attendees learn to listen, speak, feel confident, and understand their feelings. The attendees themselves present what they have learnt at social conferences and share good practice in the community. Attendees of the Day Centre also participate in the Centre’s Council, where they can make suggestions on service delivery and by doing so they are part of the decision-making process. Evaluation through client feedback and inspection shows that the Day Centre has boosted social participation and decision-making, independence and self–management of regular clients.

The 6th District of Bucharest, for Ukraine

6th District City Council – General Directorate, Social Assistance and Child Protection, Bucharest, Romania

Since March 2022, the General Directorate of Social Assistance and Child Protection has been contributing to the Romanian authorities’ efforts to support Ukrainian refugees, mostly mothers with children. The General Directorate partnered with public and private specialists to gather dozens of social workers, psychologists, educators, animators, medical staff, lawyers, and volunteers in various activities to respond as effectively as possible to the needs of people whose normal lives had been shattered by the war in their home country. This partnership enabled children to continue their education, socialise and take part in leisure activities. It also facilitated the integration of adults into the local labour market, supporting in turn their integration into the community.

‘Antenne’ Hub City of Ostend, Belgium

Every day, tons of perfectly edible food products are thrown away. At the same time, food aid and social organisations need to be able to respond to the ever-increasing demand from people in poverty. Antenne is an innovative solution from the City of Ostend that jointly addresses food waste and social inequalities. It serves as a logistic hub where food surpluses from local retailers are collected daily and brought to neighbouring local food distribution organisations in the region. This food is then turned into meals for homeless people at canteens and social centres. To run these activities, people who have difficulty accessing the labour market are hired and trained. Therefore, the project allows people in poverty to strengthen their social networks, rediscover talents, and improve their cooking or language skills, hence improving the chances of integrating back into the community.

Office to Support Ukrainian People (OMAPU) A Coruña City Council, Spain

OMAPU is a specific A Coruña city office for people displaced due to the war in Ukraine. To date, 133 families have been supported, totalling 317 people. OMAPU has been conceived as a one-stop shop to not only provide basic needs of shelter, food and clothing but also more specific ones such as children’s education, psychological care, Spanish language lessons, or sports and leisure activities. The Office also supports refugees with claiming help from other Spanish public administration offices, accessing health services, transport to other cities in Spain and any other needs that might arise. To achieve these objectives, OMAPU has been working closely with other public administrations, and simultaneously developing partnerships with local NGOs, private companies, volunteers and citizens, taking advantage of the solidarity network that had been created in the city during the Covid-19 pandemic crisis management.

Mobile Application ‘JUS-App’ for Youth Welfare Offices

Social Authority of Hamburg City Council, (Sozialbehoerde Hamburg), Germany

Social workers in Hamburg requested portable technology solutions that would automatically carry out administrative tasks, provide all case details while at a client’s home, support all their legal governance requirements, including forms and checklists, and allow them to connect to Hamburg’s JUS-IT system in real-time. JUS-IT is the main software solution used in the youth welfare offices of Hamburg. The project aims to increase the efficiency and productivity of Hamburg’s social workers by providing technology solutions that remove daily administrative tasks and make social work more attractive by providing modern, easy-to-use solutions to help social workers do their job. A new app (JUS-App) on a mobile device (e.e. iPad) now enables all social workers in the youth welfare offices in Hamburg to access data, capture meeting details automatically, pre-populate forms, and enable audio/video recording while they are in direct contact with clients at their homes or with service providers in their facilities.

A-Vici Pilot: Video Call Tool for Citizens Barcelona City Council, Spain

In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, Barcelona City Council piloted a remote service to reach out to citizens without the use of digital certificates through a video call service and provide them with the means to exchange documents with the City Council. During the second half of 2021, due to existing limitations in face-to-face care, the pilot project was launched in social services centres and the dependency care service of two Barcelona’s districts of the Municipal Institute of Social Services. 9 months after, the degree of use of this service has been analysed and has been positively evaluated by citizens.

Effective Preventative Care Supported by Artificial Intelligence

City of Helsingborg, Sweden

Local social services do not have the resources or sufficient personnel to work proactively with all inhabitants. Therefore, the Health and Care Department in Helsingborg developed a tool consisting of an innovative AI model that proactively identifies users at high risk of extensive future needs and individuals with the highest potential for rehabilitation. By forecasting the needs, targeted interventions can be implemented to reduce the needs of individuals, which makes more efficient use of the resources available. The tool also allows for the interventions to be evaluated consistently providing valuable data to be able to make strategic decisions about continuing funding for programmes.

Neighbourhood Network Scheme Birmingham City Council, United Kingdom

In 2017, Adult Social Care faced a £53million deficit, the consequences of a broken social care system with spiralling demand, focusing only on expensive crisis-based statutory interventions with poor outcomes for citizens. By shifting investment into prevention activity in communities, Birmingham City Council’s Neighbourhood Network Schemes is a powerful example of community power, a collaboration between the voluntary, community and statutory agencies working together to deliver change. The objective is to take a prevention-first approach, support the building of connected resilient communities, creating relational life opportunities so vulnerable older and younger adults are supported through local community assets and as near to home as possible. Neighbourhood Networks Schemes support 10,000 people each year, to live healthy, happy independent lives within communities. This has led to better outcomes, improved relational life, reducing demand for social care packages and contributing to a balanced budget in 2022.

EVIKOMP Social Services and Care Department of Linköping Municipality, Sweden

This project aims to develop a workplace learning system to support the development of future skills, training and improvement of activities in care and social services. The model is the result of a collaboration between 15 municipalities, the healthcare and education systems, and has been tested in elderly care and social services for people with disabilities. The project brings learning to the workplace through a digital interactive platform with 60 learning tracks and 300 modules of learning material which contains facts, locally produced films, and reflection questions. The material is co-created in the workplace and in direct collaboration with experts, employees and people supported by social services to ensure tailored training to the specific tasks that need to be carried out in the workplace. All developed learning materials are also shared with other professionals through the platform. The model has been used by 10,000 employees at 500 workplaces and due to the success of the project, it will be implemented in the wider province, Östergötland, in 2023.

Local Government Network for Rapid Response and Fast Track Inclusion Services in Disadvantaged Urban Areas (LGNetEA)

ASSB – Social Services Bolzano, Italy

LGNetEA was put in place to support legally resident migrants and their families in Bolzano (Italy), housed in temporary or night shelters or leaving structured reception paths. This is a multi-disciplinary project team, involving both public and private social workers, aiming to find inclusive housing quickly to prevent the social marginalisation and prevent individual precariousness of the beneficiaries. To promote access to the private property market and move away from informal accommodation, the project foresaw the need for tailored education, providing support paths and personal tutoring and mentoring; and implementing measures to support rental and housing autonomy. The project includes a thematic awareness-raising campaign and the realization of brochures and video interviews about housing integration to build mutual understanding and cohesion between the local community and the beneficiaries of the project.

Family Card: Innovation to Dignify Madrid City Council, Spain

The Family Card was developed to support social services beneficiaries to use it at any shop to buy food and hygiene products. Managed by local social services, the family receives monthly a card which allows them to purchase the goods they need based on their own choices. This innovative project was developed as a response to the social crisis generated by Covid-19 and had the political agreement of the entire city council. It takes a human rights approach and aims to eliminate stigmatisation linked to people queuing for food at food banks and provide autonomy and dignity. The initiative is integrated within the wider city’s strategic social services actions and involves various government departments to simplify procedures and enable continuous monitoring.

Konekta2: Artificial Intelligence in Older and Dependent People’s Homes

Fuenlabrada City Council, Spain

When dealing with accidents suffered by older people or people with dependency needs, the most common question that relatives and social workers ask themselves is: what if we had arrived earlier? Fuenlabrada’s social services developed a programme to help them assess the routines of people in their homes thanks to the use of sensors and artificial intelligence. Once the routines have been analysed, anomalies can be detected in real time and the reasons behind them assessed. Every time an anomaly is detected, a message is sent to the individual’s relative so that they can analyse the situation and take early action accordingly, anticipate possible risk situations, and thus preventing the further deterioration and dependence of older people or people with disabilities. This initiative is implemented in the framework of actions to support people who wish to live at home.