The participative society. Why social work professionals should focus on environment rather than behaviour

Authors Dr. S.M. Verhagen
Publication date 2009
Type Lecture


This text is structured as follows. Section 1 concerns the background to this public lecture: the fact that social participation is becoming increasingly important in our society. This is evident, for example, from the way we are evolving from a protective welfare state into an activational, participative society. This development has consequences for the social sector and therefore also for the professionals who work in it. Social work professionals are not necessarily expected to identify or solve participation problems; they are seen as ‘intermediaries’ who enable citizens to take responsibility themselves. Social work professionals are therefore expected to provide the individual applicant with less direct support and to focus more on strengthening the social networks of people and the social contexts in which they find themselves. Section 2 connects sections 1 and 3, but may also be read independently. It is about the fact that social work professionals are not yet in the habit of providing systematic insight into the results of their actions, while policy makers, for example, are increasingly looking to them precisely for this. First of all, I set out the reasons why it is so important to make the products of their interventions more visible, not only to policy makers, but also to social work professionals themselves and to the customers/citizens who depend on them. Secondly, I set out how the results of social interventions can be made more visible than they are at present; and what research can contribute. In this, I advocate a change in thinking: from thinking in terms of the evidence to thinking in terms of the evident. This argument forms the basis of the type of research that is being taken up from within the research group. In section 3, I describe a number of research projects that will be conducted during my tenure. I also set out the main proposition of this address, which states that social work professionals should do more with the knowledge that people’s behaviour is determined to a significant degree by contexts. In particular, social contexts could play a bigger role in promoting citizen participation. At present, social work professionals normally intervene directly in people’s behaviour, such as with therapies for combating problem behaviour. Interventions in a broader, social, context are rare. Why is this? And couldn’t citizen participation be more effectively promoted by these means than through direct behavioural interventions? I put forward four propositions in this regard, and explain each of them in reference to one of the current research projects within the research group. With this, in combination with the general outlines of the research presented in section 2, I hope to provide a clear and inspiring overview of the research that will be carried out within the research group in the coming years. Finally, in section 4, I will discuss the significance of the research group to the faculty of Society and Law at HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht, and to parties outside of HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht.

Language English