The ‘one point of contact’ mantra

Johan Leman, 31 January 2022

For two decades now, the ’one point of contact’ mantra has grown into the basic philosophy of the Flemish Government.

The idea is as follows: make one central contact point for all complaints and it will all become much clearer for the citizen who is looking for an answer with a complaint somewhere. The same goes for the planning of social work: make one central Board of Directors and one general director and it will all run much more smoothly and streamlined. The vocabulary associated with the one point of contact mantra includes: efficiency gains, transparency, flow and consultation. The word “cost-saving” has disappeared from the list for some time now, because one notices that at the end of the operation it always turns out to be much more expensive than it was before. And sooner or later, even the most adept policy-maker, and even the one who has a great deal of skill in concealing the disappointing reality, must admit that it is beginning to look too obvious.

What is striking about such operations is that you seldom see people who have themselves built something, or who have themselves successfully managed something in the social sector. They are usually young employees of consultancy firms, who in a short time have become very adept at working out figures with arrows pointing in all possible directions… and who almost always do not understand and cannot imagine certain elementary mechanisms of social work.

At the end of my career – and I have seen and experienced quite a bit, both in the field and administratively – I would dare to say that 50 staff members is the ideal composition of a social work in the field and 100 is an absolute maximum, and then you surely also already need to have a very good management. Reasons: in social work, relationships based on trust (among oneself and towards the people one works with and for), competence-in-to-the-detail, direct proximity, flexibility and a constant reinvention of oneself are crucial. You can’t realise that spirit in larger settings. And with this I don’t mean that you will not find hard working people in large settings. But proximity with the feld?

When I was the director of the Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism (which had quite a high visibility at the time), one of my biggest problems was that even with a high visibility, you remain unknown to many people as a centre, let alone that you are in touch with local situations. We desperately looked for local reporting points far outside of Brussels… but then came up against travel costs, loss of time and the like.

Inevitably, one day, the tune of the one contact point mantra will end. But it will be a pity that so much will have been lost in the meantime, which could have been activated in a totally different way.