Social District Teams

From EPSA - European Public Sector Award


In 2012, the Dutch central government announced that in 2015 municipal governments would become responsible for youth social care, long-term care for the sick and elderly (Wmo and Awbz) and job placement and welfare services (Participatiewet). Municipalities, already responsible for part of the social domain assignments, would take over these responsibilities from central and regional government.

The main motivation for the ‘three decentralisations’ were the rising costs of maintaining the Dutch ‘welfare state’. This system is no longer sustainable with the aging population. One interpretation of the welfare state was that it also deprived citizens of their own initiative and made them too easily dependent on professional caregivers. Thus the decentralisation underlines a societal shift: moving from the welfare state to participatory society.

The decentralisation provided a great challenge for the municipalities. They are not just faced with new responsibilities, but the changes are paired with substantial budget cuts of 10%-30%. However, opportunities arise as well. Municipalities were given a single budget for these assignments, and the freedom to carry out the decentralisation as they see fit. In addition, municipalities are now in control of nearly the entire social domain. This enables them to create an integrated organisation for support that can provide more effective care with less bureaucracy and in a more cost effective way.

In 2012 and 2013, Zaanstad initiated the change in cooperation with the service providers active in social support, youth care and social security, with whom the municipality had a standing subsidiary relationship. A ‘new-for-old’ regulation reduces the subsidiary in three years’ time, making funds available for existing contractors and the municipality to build up a new approach.

In 2013, pilot studies were initiated on working with ‘Social District Teams’. Unlike most Dutch municipalities, Zaanstad chose to put the Social district teams to tender outside the municipal organisation and with multiple contractors. This approach provided room for the knowledge and skills of professionals to develop their own (innovative) approach per district. Exchange of experience among contractors and the municipality has been made a tender requirement. Based on experience the lead contractors and the municipality develop effective working methods in co-creation.

Zaanstad developed this approach by springing into action quickly and learning by doing. Gathering practical experience was coupled concurrently with research. For example, quantitative research (“Factlab”) showed that the development of an integrated approach was indeed needed, because many households deal with multifaceted problems and a combination of social services. Action research (“Heavenly Mud”) showed that households felt the desire to direct their problem-solving process themselves.

Consequently, households are assigned one contact person from the Social district team. Together they develop an integrated approach focused on re-attaining directive control. They hereby assume household members’ own capabilities and where needed (temporarily) supported by social services. The teams are provided with space for consideration for tailoring solutions, sometimes found through simple, albeit nonstandard methods, and invest in preventive support.

In 2014 the Social district teams officially got under way in Zaanstad, one year before the municipality became actually responsible for the new social care assignments. Results show that the approach leads to greater initiative taken by households over their own lives, more effective interventions, increased customer satisfaction and a reduction in appeals to more serious or complex care and thus a reduction in government spending.

Award info
Award category: the public sector as partner for a better society - supra-local and local level
Award type: diploma
Award year: 2015
Project type
Sector: Regional policy and development, decentralisation
Type of activity:
Keywords: Social district teams, decentralisation, co-creation, learning by doing, participatory society
Short English description: In 2013, pilot studies were initiated on working with ‘Social District Teams’. Unlike most Dutch municipalities, Zaanstad chose to put the Social district teams to tender outside the municipal organisation and with multiple contractors.
Further information
Organisation: Municipality of Zaanstad
Other applicants:
Level of government: local level
Size of organisation: >100
Number of people involved: >15
Country: Netherlands
EU membership: EU member
Language code: en
Start date:
End date:

Social District Teams (52.438355, 4.814597999999933)
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