Current information and communications technology is only now starting to be used in the world of social and employment policy and analysis. The full use of that technology will transform policy-making, social research and analysis, the design of social programming and the way in which it is governed. On all fronts, the changes will be deep and highly beneficial – including for individual well-being and government treasuries.

Today’s welfare state policies came to maturity some fifty years ago in the pre-computer age and are reaching the end of their useful lives. The transformed system which will replace it is referred to as the enabling society. A series of push and pull factors make the transition to the enabling society inevitable over the long run. However, the transition could be bumpy in the absence of a conscious implementation strategy. The paper proposes such a strategy, one that builds on areas of common interest, which provides a satisfying long-term narrative about future directions that will encourage consensus, and that will provide demonstrable payoffs in the short- as well as the long-term.

Key characteristics of the enabling society include a citizen-centred focus, evidence-driven programming, a shift to asset-based and lifecourse perspectives, shifting to partnership-based horizontal dealings within the social policy world, and a radical improvement in efficiency, openness, accountability and systematic learning within government. In the enabling society individuals will be more responsible, within their families and communities, for determining the course of their own lives – but with increased support for those who are most vulnerable, who face the greatest obstacles in developing their capabilities and making life choices.

Central to these reforms is a radically improved base of ‘what works best’ knowledge. This is produced by new ‘big statistics’ techniques that, for example, can calculate tailor-made estimates for job-seekers of the expected success of specific options that are available, such as applying for specific jobs, retraining alternatives or moving to another city – available on line, at the time the decision is being made. This same ‘what works best’ evidence will also result in transformative improvements in program design and delivery, in governance and in partnership arrangements.

Bibliographic Note

Published in French: Hicks, P. (2013). L’analyse sociale au sein d’une société habilitante. Pertinence des perspectives fondées sur les parcours de vie dans l’élaboration des politiques, Sociologie et sociétés, vol. 45, n° 1, p. 301-333. Also published as "Social Policy in the Enabling Society: A compendium of supporting papers" by the Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP), March 2015.