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Former Member
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The International Social Security Association’s (ISSA) Regional Social Security Forum for Europe will take place in Stockholm, Sweden, from 18 to 20 April 2016, at the invitation of the Swedish Pensions Agency. I will be representing the SAP Institute for Digital Government at this high profile event along with over 300 delegates representing nearly 100 organisations from 46 countries.

I have been asked to address the forum on the topic of leading innovation in social security. The conference organisers published the following to set the scene for the event:

Social security systems in Europe are faced with a double challenge of increasing demands and scarce resources. Challenging economic, fiscal and labour market conditions frame on-going reform efforts to adapt social security systems to demographic changes, evolving health risk factors, new needs and increasing public expectations.  In this context, social security administrations must continuously improve and innovate to implement reforms, ensure protection, high service levels as well as support prevention, early intervention, health and employability. Often asked to do more with less, administrations have embraced organizational reforms, implemented technical innovations and strengthened communication and service delivery strategies. 

I will be introducing the concept of enduring innovation in social security, which I have defined as baseline reform leading to continuous value generation over the long-term. This definition points towards policy reform as the baseline for enduring innovation. Policy reform is enabled by more innovation that involves people, process, organisations and technology – some of which are short term until replaced by something new and better while others last the distance.

The general concept of social security is an example of enduring innovation. From the times of the English Poor Laws during the reign of Elizabeth I in the 16th century, to the birth of modern social security initiated by Chancellor Bismarck of Germany in the late 19th century, the fundamental principles of social security such as safety nets and solidarity, have formed a baseline delivering continuous value generation over the centuries for individuals and society at large.

The question now is how to meet the social and economic challenges of the 21st century. Innovation seems to be the “word of 2016” as it has become the catch-cry for many governments around the world as they seek to reinvigorate their economies through entrepreneurship and productivity related goals. There are many different types of innovation – from the enduring kind to the new products and services that come and go.  Innovation is often directed at the consumer end of the value chain such as service delivery.  In the service delivery domain the aim may be to find a quick fix to a service problem (e.g. call centre wait times) and/or practical uses for the latest pieces of technology (e.g. smartphones apps). Addressing consumer issues adds value however the innovations in this area are not likely to address the wider social and economic challenges of our time.

While there are many examples of innovation in social security delivering value, next week I will examine where enduring innovation occurs. Social policy is the most fertile ground for enduring innovation - but it is also the hardest to create and execute. A prerequisite for enduring innovation is the ability to unlock value contained within the vast amounts of digital data held both inside the social security organisation and in other sources such as other government agencies and the commercial sector. Unlocking the value from this data is the key to generating insight needed for evidence based policy. Insight is the catalyst for the next wave of enduring innovation at the policy level.  

Elizabeth I and Bismarck’s enduring innovations of safety nets and solidarity were created on the back of their experience, skill and wisdom. These capabilities are still needed, but in today’s more complex and fast moving world, social security policy makers and administrators need assistance to address the challenges facing social security. Getting control and understanding of data may well provide some answers and inspire enduring innovation.

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