New methods to enhance the efficiency of social services

Weak state structures impact the efficiency of social services. The effects are palpable at the local level, where people are expected to work with insufficient funds, too few staff and apply outdated methods. In northern Serbia, the introduction of a computer program aims to overhaul the provision of municipal social services.

If you want to learn something about the future of social services in Serbia, you need to go to the Novi Sad football stadium. The nongovernmental organisation Support to Sustainable Communities (SSC) still has its offices here and its team has recently embarked on a mission to reform social work in Serbia in co-operation with an institute in the autonomous northern Serbian province Vojvodina and the GIZ regional project Social Rights for Vulnerable Groups.

‘Quite a lot has gone wrong with social protection in this country,’ says Radomir Šovljanski. He advises the participating government institute, the Provincial Institute for Social Protection, which coordinates and provides expert monitoring of the co-operation between state social institutions and NGOs. ‘Small local welfare agencies are staffed by maybe two or three people,’ Šovljanski explains. This is what he means when he says: ‘Quite a lot has gone wrong.’ ‘Not only are they often expected to care for hundreds of families, they are also required to write detailed reports on all of their cases twice a month.’ These reports are sent in from 44 municipalities and over 100 institutions to Šovljanski’s institute – most of them on paper. They are checked for errors, retyped and formatted. ‘It sometimes takes months to prepare such a report and forward it to the ministry,’ says Šovljanski, who eventually began to look for ways to simplify data collection, speed up the process and make it more efficient.

Digitisation increases efficiency

Solving structural issues and introducing new administration methods in Vojvodina is, as is the case everywhere else in the world, a government responsibility, yet one which so far it has been unable to fulfil. But support for the task is now being offered by the GIZ regional project Social Rights for Vulnerable Groups which promotes innovative approaches to social work in the Western Balkans to improve the living conditions of socially disadvantaged groups. In a joint project, the NGO Support to Sustainable Communities (SSC) was able to develop computer software which is currently in the final stages of testing in just a matter of months – all from its base at the stadium. Soon, the NGO will move to a new office, where it will have access to training rooms. In the meantime, the many welfare agencies of Vojvodina are to record every detail of their many welfare cases over this internet-based program. ‘It is easy,’ says Marija Krsmanović from SSC. ‘Filling out the input form only requires ticking boxes or filling in numbers. Where necessary, notes can be added to explain the context.’ Nobody needs to do any more work than before, she says, ‘but we have a centralised database that we evaluate, link and prepare for the reports’. Radomir Šovljanski is confident: ‘This approach will make processing cases more efficient and improve the basis for political decision-making.’