The Citizen in the Centre?

By Erik Koopman.

Municipalities face significant challenges and uncertainties in carrying out their new tasks in the social domain. Many municipalities have chosen for a central role for social district teams. Even though the district teams vary greatly in their tasks and structure, in general the teams exist to discover the genuine need for help and support for citizens and to be able to see the ‘bigger picture’ in order to recognise and solve problems early, integrally and effectively.

This thesis focuses on diagnosing the structure of the social district teams in the Municipality of Almelo. More specifically, the question is answered to what extent the teams are able to treat cases integrally, find adequate solutions and are able to solve all kinds of problems themselves. For this purpose, multiple actors within and outside Almelo have been interviewed, and documents have been studied. This has resulted in the conclusion that in multiple areas, Almelo is doing well, but in other areas improvements are possible.

A first remarkable feature of the structure of the social district teams is the separation between preparing the help and support and the actual provision of it. The teams’ main task is to develop a support plan together with the client. After this stage, mainly specialised care providers actually provide the help and support. In this phase the neighbourhood coaches have a regulatory role. This diminishes the quality of work (because the coaches are only responsible for a part of the process) and limits the learning abilities of the teams. The coaches cannot fully judge the adequacy of their plans, since there is a relatively limited feedback flow coming from the implementation.

Debt problems and work and income play a relatively small role in the work of the teams, even though they are present in a majority of the cases and can often be a large part of the solution. Integrating these areas better would increase the ability for coaches to treat cases integrally.

Secondly, the separation between production and regulation is noticeable. The coaches have no mandate to take a decision themselves. Their support plan is merely an advice. For every support plan a regulatory loop with the municipal back office is needed. This slows down the process. Furthermore, the demands for the support plan are relatively extensive. It would be advisable to look for a mode of accountability that focuses on why certain decisions were (not) taken and with an explicit focus on learning. The ‘budget for disrupted families’ has the potential to serve as a means for quick solutions when needed, but it still requires quite a lot of communication and fine-tuning, and functions as a ‘last resort’ instead of a quick solution in cases where the rules prevent this.

There is often a relatively big distance between the neighbourhood coaches and management and the feedback loops require quite a lot of links. Even though all municipal actors emphasise the importance of professional discretion and learning from mistakes, the coaches do not always experience psychological safety to experiment and commit mistakes. This calls for more involvement of management and administration in the work of neighbourhood coaches, without intervening in it. It would be advisable to organise case discussions with all relevant actors (including care providers, professionals, network actors and management/administrator) to create mutual understanding and to facilitate learning and development about for example where rules impede the process and how actors can be connected better.

MA-thesis Erik Koopman.