You have to at least make the effort to see for yourself what is going on

Public services are often mapped out by civil servants sitting behind desks. But if their services are to be effective, they first have to understand the needs of the people they want to help. So what can be done in countries where many don’t even know what they are legally entitled to and public bodies are often viewed as hostile? Bosnia and Herzegovina now applies social mapping as the method of choice to bring those in need and social workers together.

Work for Adnan Drndić and Elsada Horozić begins with a trip to the countryside. They are a team working for the nongovernmental organisation called Zemlja Djece u BiH, which translates into English as ‘The land of children in Bosnia and Herzegovina’. Together, the social worker and the child psychologist reach out to socially and territorially marginalised people who live outside the city. Like the other Zemlja Djece u BiH teams, Drndić and Horozić drive directly to the slums to offer residents advice and provide support.

They have a lot to do in Kiseljak, a settlement next to the Modrač reservoir. Around 1,000 people live here in ramshackle homes; half of them are Roma. There is only occasionally a bus to Tuzla which is 15 kilometres away, and a small kiosk where residents can buy food. ‘90% of the people here want to leave,’ says Drndić. ‘If they had the means, they would pack their bags immediately.’ But hardly anybody here does; only a handful have regular incomes, and people can barely survive on their benefit payments, which are often paid months late.

Outreach work means going to people who would otherwise not come to you

Adnan Drndić knows all of this only too well. In 2013, he began a project of social mapping in and around Tuzla. He went knocking on doors, talking to people, listening to their problems and gradually getting an idea of their social situation. To increase the level of detail, he developed questionnaires: how many families live here? How many children do you have and do they go to school? What legal status do people have? Do they have birth certificates and are they officially registered? How are their homes equipped and what are their immediate needs? There are a lot of things Adnan Drndić wants to know – and his questions provide the basis for an entirely new approach to social work.

Meanwhile, the GIZ regional project on Social Rights for Vulnerable Groups, which promotes innovative approaches to social work in the Western Balkans, has applied the social mapping concept in other towns. They call this approach, which takes welfare offices directly to local people, outreach work. Previously, city councils had no direct contact with the communities they were dealing with; they did not even know how many people were living there. ‘The numerous action plans applied in Bosnia during the past years have had no effect,’ Drndić reports. ‘You have to at least make the effort to see for yourself what is going on. Today we have precise figures and know the people personally behind them.’ Planning the necessary material and staff resources, as well as the assistance required, can be done in a much more precise way.

People who know their rights will also use them

This outreach work also had another positive outcome: people in the settlements now have more information – they know who to talk to and which conditions they have to fulfil to receive assistance. ‘For people who generally experience state bureaucracy as either indifferent or hostile, simply knowing that a particular form exists is already a great help,’ says Adnan Drndić.

Some people in the neighbourhood who are convinced about the benefits of this method, are now getting involved as social mapping volunteers. They take care of their neighbourhood, visit other families at their homes and help them fill out social cards that include all the important data and can be presented during appointments at the welfare office. For adults who can often only barely read and write, if at all, this provides important assistance. Eventually, volunteers may go on to become mediators and advisers, settle conflicts and convince parents to send their children to school so that they do not end up on the streets.

‘Our outreach work has been a huge success,’ says child psychologist Elsada Horozić, who accompanies Adnan Drndić on his trips. By going to meet people, listening to them, and providing advice and support, they have gained a lot of trust. The result is a clear rise in the self-esteem of the people who live here. ‘Now 90% of the Roma children here attend school fairly regularly. This is also a result of social mapping and our work with volunteers.’