Who can apply?

We welcome applications from any organisation involved in social services with a project related to the 2022 ESSA theme, the categories below and fits the general criteria. Applicants may self-nominate.


Recognising the diverse nature and responsibilities of social services, applications can be submitted in five categories. To acknowledge excellence in cities, the focus of the 2022 Excellence Award is ‘Cities Innovation for Social Change,’ selected from cities that apply in any of the five categories below:

One of the main purposes of social innovation is to improve the lives of people in vulnerable situations using social means. This Award honours innovative approaches in the delivery of social services to provide better quality services that meet the needs of people who require care and support.

Specific examples of applications may include:

  • innovations in the delivery of existing or new services or programmes for emerging need(s) or to respond to crises;
  • plans to improve social services preparedness to address a future crisis;
  • innovative outreach practices;
  • improvements in the delivery process, such as an innovative practice in public procurement;
  • outstanding effort made by the workforce to improve a service.


Without a well-performing workforce, we cannot have well-performing social services. This category recognises innovations that profoundly impact the social services and care workforce in a positive manner.

Specific examples of applications may include:

  • innovative recruitment and retention strategies;
  • inclusive leadership and management programmes;
  • new professional figures;
  • training and development programmes;
  • programmes that promote cooperation between professionals and sectors.

ESN strongly believes in the importance and value of collaboration between organisations, services and sectors, which are key to driving successful social innovation. This Award honours cooperative relationships between different levels of government, public agencies, services, third and private sector organisations through which they have led innovation in social services.

Specific examples may include:

  • partnership frameworks that foster constructive collaborative processes;
  • jointly set up service;
  • an agency pooling services or professionals from across agencies, sectors or budgets;
  • an integrated case management approach.


A key driver of social innovation is digitalisation and the development of new technology tools. On the one hand, this Award recognises technological and digital improvements that enable social services to improve their accessibility, usability by professionals and person using services, and their availability for those in need. On the other, it recognises projects that promote choice, personal autonomy and enable people to remain in their own homes.

Specific examples of applications may include

  • new technology to help professionals in their decision-making process or their day-to-day work;
  • digital platforms to support people access social services or digital support for people using social services;
  • IT case management to better manage the specific situation of people using services;
  • assisted living technologies for people to remain in their homes;
  • new tools to improve communication with people using services.

Without a proper understanding of how a social problem arises, it can be difficult to come up with the right social innovation to address it. Backed with data, research provides this link to social services. This Award honours research that provides knowledge that led to the development of evidence-based innovative initiatives in social services.

Specific examples of applications may include

  • a study carried out or guidance developed by social services;
  • cost-benefits studies in social services;
  • evaluation reports on the impact of programmes on social services;
  • return on investment studies;
  • randomised controlled trials (RCTs) in social services;
  • social impact assessments in social services;
  • research (projects) on the topic of social services innovation.

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.

This prize will be awarded to a project selected from amongst all the applications submitted by cities in the categories above.

How to Apply?

Each organisation may submit a maximum of 2 projects (use one application form per project) and only one per category.


General criteria

Applications must demonstrate:

  • that the project is innovative for their respective context/environment
  • that the project has a positive and sustainable impact

In addition, applicants must agree to the following rules:

  • Each organisation may submit a maximum of 2 projects (use one application form per project) and only one per category.
  • Applicants agree that their photographs, video images and details of their project may be used by ESN for promotional purposes.