Exploratory research: How system actors can help vulnerable people to navigate our social welfare system

Seed funding for EWUU Preventive Health project

Photo: Timon Studler (via Unsplash)

Frontline professionals and public servants (‘system actors’) can help people in a vulnerable socioeconomic situation navigate our welfare state, especially if they know how to interpret and, where necessary, bend the rules to the benefit of their clients. A team of researchers from Utrecht University and Wageningen University are going to explore which interventions are successful and what we can learn for future implementation strategies – in close collaboration with people who actually experience such unfortunate circumstances.

Despite the presence of an extensive social welfare system in the Netherlands, navigating this (complex) system remains daunting for many individuals, especially those in vulnerable positions. If people stay in socioeconomic insecurity for too long – grappling with their finances, housing, employment, health, and social networks – sooner or later this will reflect on their health and life expectancy. Frontline professionals and public servants (‘system actors’) can help them, especially if they know how to interpret and, where necessary, bend the rules to the benefit of the people they are meant to support.

One of the project aims is to find out, through qualitative interviews, which challenges these professionals encounter from superiors or colleagues, how they justify their actions, and how their discretionary behaviour enables breakthroughs for individuals in socioeconomic insecurity. Additionally, the first-hand, experiential knowledge of those who live(d) in socioeconomic insecurity will be taken into account, by bringing them together with professionals in so-called co-creation workshops.

After this exploratory stage, the next step will be to translate these insights into intervention and implementation strategies to promote behaviour change among their colleagues and co-workers. In the long run the project aims to facilitate systemic change within the social welfare system, ensuring that it effectively supports individuals in need, particularly those with multiple needs.

Preventive Health

Preventive Health is one of the main research themes within the EWUU collaboration between the universities of Utrecht, Eindhoven, Wageningen and Utrecht Medical Centre. The interdisciplinary project How do system actors bend the rules of the system to mitigate socioeconomic insecurity and enhance health among vulnerable populations? receives seed funding from the Institute for Preventive Health (i4PH) which forms part of that collaboration.

The researchers who collaborate on this project have complementary expertises in public health, epidemiology, public policy, systems thinking, health inequity, social and behavioral science, citizen participation, public administration, and law.

The participants are: