Asker Welfare Lab



Policy areas

Organisation name Asker municipality

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Contact person: Ingrid Blichfeldt

The Welfare Lab in Asker municipality is an example of a specific service innovation, and an example of how working innovatively can significantly change the trajectory that was originally plotted. This can produce results yielding a much larger reward than could have been intended or anticipated at first.

In 2013, Asker municipality was asked to be a part of a project, piloting service design as a method of reshaping the social housing services. The project owner was The Norwegian Centre for Design and Architecture (DogA), and the project was funded by the Norwegian State Housing Bank. LiveWork Studio was engaged as the partner delivering the service design methodology. The purpose of the project was to create a new direction for the social housing services, and create the Housing Office of the future.

Based on the knowledge obtained from dialogue with both citizens and municipal workers in the first phase of the project (Gathering Insights), it became obvious that the initial scope of the project was too narrow. Citizens with complex housing and living conditions or situations expressed that they often did not have their needs met sufficiently. The municipal workers, on their side, indicated that they did not get to perform their jobs in a suitably purposeful manner.

The services of the future have to be ‘the services of the citizen’, therefore the project coined a phrase that was to become the mantra or slogan for the project; ‘NO decision ABOUT me is to be made WITHOUT me’.

Based on this background, a totally new concept for service delivery was developed, challenging the traditional public sector mindset. The public sector often tends to fall into one of two situations:

  • The citizen is treated in a paternalistic way and not listened to;
  • The citizen is smothered and ‘carried through life’, being treated as a passive receiver of public services, without demands or expectations to participate themselves.

If change is required to achieve this and to obtain lasting results, it is necessary to work with all the pillars of welfare; work, health, education and housing, simultaneously. The following hypothesis was developed:

What if the municipality starts thinking like an investor, investing in people, instead of just being a case worker?

With this investment thinking as a starting point, the model for the service concept ‘The Welfare Lab of Asker municipality’ was developed in the first phase of the project. This concept is based on the following principles:

  • taking the risk of early investment to get the socio-economic benefits in the long term;
  • creating a better experience for the citizen;
  • planning long-term courses where the municipality is coordinated as one unit;
  • looking at/considering the citizens as co-investors, actively contributing to their own future.

Inspired by the investment thinking, a new department was established within the municipality in the autumn of 2014, called Citizen Square ( – Norwegian only). The purpose is to ensure coordination for citizens with complex needs and life situations. Citizen Square is co-located with the local offices of The Norwegian Labour and Welfare Service (Nye arbeids- og velferdsetaten – NAV) delivering comprehensively coordinated services in the fields of economic counselling and management, allocation of housing and social housing services. This includes the benefits allotted by the Norwegian State Housing Bank (housing allowance and home loans), in unison with assessment for and allocation of healthcare and social services. Citizens with comprehensive needs are given a thorough mapping of their life situation, through one conversation with Citizen Square. They experience having just one case worker, and receive simultaneous services. Help with housing, economy and health is available through ‘one single door’.

Learn more about this project here:

Citizen Square was established in 2014 and included the preparation of the model for the Welfare Lab. It was decided to further develop and test the service concept, based on the model for investment thinking, on selected target groups. By the time of submission for the EPSA 2017 award, Asker Welfare Lab was in Phase 2 of the project, where it has been tested in practice and the goal was to develop the concept into an even more comprehensive model.

After EPSA, Asker municipality was working on continuing the project in Phase 3: the Phase 3 objective is most likely to further develop the model with a view to collecting experience, as well as identifying critical success factors for scaling internally and externally.

The target groups for the Phase 2 pilot were:

  • families with children, living in difficult living conditions (poverty, unemployment, welfare-cases);
  • vulnerable youngsters between 17 and 25 years old;
  • families with children that have different disabilities.

The main reasons that the municipality wanted to further develop the service concept was that the Welfare Lab:

  • turns the resource effort from only repairing to prevention and early efforts;
  • coordinates internal resources in the municipality while at the same time connecting this with the resources and abilities of the citizens themselves and their networks, as well as volunteers, businesses and the private sector, and the Asker-society as a whole;
  • contributes to creating a sustainable municipality economy in the long term where the resources the municipality manages are utilised as efficiently as possible;
  • measures the impact and effect for both the municipality and the citizens.

A broadly composed investment team, with an expanded mandate and the authority to make decisions in the first line, forms the core of the Asker Welfare Lab. The investment team consists of employees from health centres, kindergartens, schools, the Child and Family Unit, Child Welfare, NAV, User Care, Mental Health and Addiction, Work, Leisure and Respite Care, and Social Affairs and Integration. The team is specialised in investment thinking and will, together with the families and citizens, map out needs, formulate goals and find accurate measures in the short and long term. The goal is to create long-term and sustainable living conditions for citizens and families.

It is also a goal that the investment teams should consist of representatives outside the municipal organisation such as volunteers, private businesses and family networks, so that the family’s own resources and resources in the Asker community are viewed in conjunction with the municipality’s resources. Here, co-creation thinking is a school of thought that is central to the concept. There are multiple ways for citizens to reach the investment team, and all the services in the municipality are, on their side, possible ‘doors and entrances’ to the Welfare Lab.

One of the key activities in this concept is Citizen Square, inspired by the service concept stemming from the Welfare Lab. This applies in particular to the empowerment of employees. In practice, this means that the departments no longer need to conduct the ‘decision meetings’ they did before, but that every employee has both the sufficient knowledge, but more importantly, the decision-making authority to make decisions for the benefit of the citizen in the meeting with the citizen, without unnecessary red tape and the usual bureaucracy often surrounding committing to providing funds and other resources.

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