The Challenge

The Service Reform Fund is a conscious effort to engage in large, complex social service improvements in Ireland. This programme has resulted in the national scaling of service innovations, which were previously at the pilot stage. These are now the flagship programmes of Irish government’s response to long-term homelessness, unemployment of people with mental health challenges and supporting people with disabilities to live engaged lives in communities. The programmes are being sustained and expanded by the government at a scale that would be impossible with only philanthropic support.

The Practice

There were three approaches adopted to advance the Service Reform Fund

  1. Funding was contingent – The funding was awarded and paid out by the Genio Trust based on progress with agreed plans. Each region was given opportunities to develop plans based on the needs of service users. Funding was awarded to the regions against transparent criteria which focused on the extent to which the regions developed realistic, ambitious plans for service reform. The funding was then paid out based on the monitoring of the implementation of these plans.
  2. Curiosity about implementation challenges – The implementation of the Service Reform Fund was informed by international expertise about complex social service systems reform. An action research methodology was adapted to the areas of social service reform and was used to make challenges discussable and to support implementation.
  3. Priority of service user voice – Service users were involved in planning, inputting into decisions on the awarding of funding and evaluation of progress. This symbolised the shift in power dynamics and ensured that a platform was provided for this voice to be heard.


At this stage, the Service Reform Fund is nearly complete, and the results have far exceeded expectations. The Housing First model to address long-term homelessness is operating across the whole country and the government has recently announced another expansion of the number of people being inducted into the programme. In the mental health field, a programme to support people with significant mental health challenges to access the competitive labour market, called Individual Placement and Support has been mainstreamed and expanded nationally by the Irish Health Service. Also, Community-Living, a programme where people with disabilities are supported to engage in community life, has now been expanded significantly in Ireland with more person-centred practices being built in. These programmes of work have been rigorously monitored and evaluated.

Insights / Advice to Peers

Often when facing complex scaling challenges, it is best to start with very specific areas of practice and to facilitate well-structured discussions, involving service users, about how services should change. Once momentum builds around these reforms it is easier to build outwards and expand. The design of this process is crucial and it is important to access specific expertise on how to bring about reforms in complex systems.

Overall, there is a need to balance idealism with a sense of realism about how scaling actually happens within social service systems. In Europe, if you are working on social service challenges and not considering the role of the public sector (in conjunction with the private and non-profit sectors) significant scaling will rarely take place.

Further Resources


Dr John Healy – Genio, Deputy Executive Director –

Clare Bergin – Genio, Executive Assistant to Executive Director –