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Empathy is the new Black

Author: Christian Bason
Published Date: 12 June 2013

ByChristian BasonJanuary 23rd 2013

This article previously appeared in Monday Morning Blog.

In her televised New Year’s speech, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt made it clear that the public sector must become more efficient. Yes, but how? In my experience, an important prerequisite is that we grow the ability to put ourselves in other people’s place. We must base the creation of better and more productive welfare on empathy.

In fact, the professional ability to put oneself in the citizen’s place is a central component in several recent successful efforts to modernise the Danish public sector.

In late 2012,the Selsmose School in Høje Taastrupwon the Local Government Denmark prize for innovation. The school, where about 95% of pupils are of non-Danish ethnic origin, has achieved impressive educational results, and currently ranks significantly above the national average in a number of subjects.

The key to the school’s success lies in the recognition that pupils’ well-being and happiness come before their scholastic learning, and that it is necessary to involve a broad community of actors in the local area – housing associations, businesses, parents and relatives – to foster support, enthusiasm and energy around and in the school.

Selsmose School’s transformation was thus rooted in a deep empathy for the children’s world and its larger context. Next, the results were supported by a significant administrative effort to involve both personnel and the local community in creating positive change for the pupils.

In the area of employment we see a similar tendency toward thinking far more in terms of empowering the individual citizen, for example in Copenhagen Municipality’sBorgeren ved roret(Citizen at the helm) programme.

After a decade of control and coercion, authorities are beginning to adapt a holistic view of what it takes to bring the individual unemployed person closer to the job market. The new measures make new (and cheaper) digital tools available to the public, so they themselves can tailor the services to their needs. Simultaneously, public employment services can be more personalised to the most vulnerable individuals, i.e., more focused on individual needs and challenges.

To read the full article, please follow the link to Empathy is the new Black