The Portuguese EQUAL Managing Authority considers innovation, empowerment, suitability, usefulness, accessibility, equality and transferability as the main criteria for analyzing the quality of products. With an obvious orientation towards innovation and the dissemination of innovative solutions within the scope of the social and professional integration of vulnerable social groups and the fight against all types of discrimination, this methodology has already been considered exemplary by a variety of European partners. At a time when Member States and the European Commission are negotiating operational programs for the next programming period, 2007-2013, Portuguese EQUAL has promoted a European session to demonstrate this methodology at a demonstration session organised in Lisbon on 4 May 2007. The EQUAL product validation model in Portugal is recognised as best-practice.
The model has revealed itself as an important step in order to assure and reinforce innovation and change in organisations and in systems. With this proposal, Portuguese EQUAL established demanding quality standards regarding the results of products financed by the European Social Fund, particularly in an area as sensitive as experimentation and production of new solutions, which are intended to bring added value to practice and policy within the "social arena". The demonstration session which took place in Lisbon (4 May) was, as such, an important initiative to share and disseminate this methodology. To this effect, the "Portuguese language kit for Immigrant Nurses", a product currently being developed by a project, was presented to a group of European partners. It was the subject of discussion and evaluation by the various participants that were present, based on the seven quality criteria. Partners, potential users and European observers, including from the European Commission, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Germany and France, participated in the demonstration. This was followed by a generous exchange of opinion intended to improve understanding and exploring potential options. One of the fundamental requirements of the Portuguese model for product validation is, not coincidentally, a plural/multiple look, made possible by the involvement of these different "participants", such as creators, partners, experts, political decision-makers and also beneficiaries.
Solutions in progress
EQUAL in Portugal has played a fundamental role in the development of new approaches and in the resolution of problems in the social arena. "The innovative method from EQUAL bases its work on the involvement of all agents who can benefit, understand and provide solutions to problems. It is this principle of empowerment, ensuring that people experience a true feeling of participation in the solving of problems, that we believe to be fundamental for improving the effectiveness of social policy in Portugal", stressed João Santos, a representative from the European Commission, present at the session.
The EQUAL validation method requires that all new solutions can be translated into tangible products that can be observed, analyzed and recognized. To this effect, the method uses a validation grid that, after an audit of previous learning from the first phase of the program, was simplified and enriched, now presenting a check-list of how to apply the criteria for quality analysis. This grid promotes reflection upon each one of the defined dimensions (innovation, empowerment, suitability, usefulness, accessibility, equality and transferability).
Discussing about the validation process that improves products qualityOne of the more important effects of the model for validating products used in Portugal is the improvement of product quality, when creators enrich their products, integrating the feedback from participants during the validation process. They can, subsequently, request a new validation.
For a constructive improvement of products, validation sessions in intermediary phases provide a significant input, considering that the quality criteria are applied from early stages of product "development", as well as paying attention to certain factors that are considered critical to the process of creating innovative products. The process aims to:
- Clearly identify the problem or need to which the product is intended to respond,
- Investigate what has previously been done in each domain, search for solutions or products in similar problem phases (benchmarking),
- Ensure a partnership's necessary leadership, technical competencies and creative capital in order to create added-value,
- Continuously experiment and auto-evaluate,
- Share and work in a network with partners and experts.
- Focus on Validation
During the demonstration session for the Portuguese validation model, the different working groups analyzed the product and attributed a grade, accordingly. The discussion permitted the team to note the strengths and weaknesses of the process, as well as suggestions for improvement.
Those participating recognized the added-value of the validation process, including improvement in product quality, additional social recognition for a product and credibility brought to product creators and the positive impact this has on product distribution.
"I am certain that the Portuguese authorities will want to take advantage of the excellent work carried out by EQUAL and ensure that this type of approach becomes an integral part of operational programs in the next period of programs 2007-2013", affirmed João Santos.