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Ymlaen: The research, innovation and improvement strategy for social care 2024 to 2029

We want to create a culture where evidence is central to delivery and used to inform decisions at all levels of social care, and where people feel inspired and supported to try new things.


People working in social care go above and beyond to deliver services that improve outcomes for the people of Wales. Supporting individuals and families in every community, the social care sector protects children, adults and older adults and helps them to do what matters to them.

The aim of the strategy is to help people who lead, develop and deliver social care.

That’s because we know that research, innovation and improvement can support social care services to make a positive difference. This is even more important against a backdrop of growing inequality, increasing demand, rising costs and recruitment pressures.

There’s been a limited system of support for social care compared to what’s in place for other public services like education and health. Progress has been made in social care over the last few years thanks to the work of a range of organisations, and there’ll be more opportunities in the future through the commitment of partners and policy developments including the National Office for Social Care.

So it's timely for us to have a shared strategic approach to support social care to achieve the ambitions set out in the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 and the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.

We want to create a culture where evidence is central to delivery and used to inform decisions at all levels of social care, and where people feel inspired and supported to try new things.

Ymlaen – meaning 'forward' in Welsh – is the strategy we've developed together to deliver on those aims.

Our vision

People leading, developing and delivering social care feel confident, supported and inspired to use evidence and innovation to make a positive difference to care and support in Wales.

To achieve this vision, Social Care Wales will work with partners to:

  • Set direction: identify shared priorities for research, innovation and improvement so we can direct attention, resource and action to where it’s needed most.
  • Connect: ‘join the dots’ between different types of support for research, innovation and improvement in social care.
  • Enable: create conditions that enable positive and lasting change in social care. 
  • Support: provide direct support to people working in social care to encourage research, innovation and improvement.
  • Disrupt: inspire new ways of working.


In 2018, Social Care Wales published the Social care research and development strategy 2018 to 2023 in partnership with Health and Care Research Wales.

It was the first time we’d set out clear goals and actions to support better social care research and develop evidence-enriched practice on a national level.

We’ve achieved a lot with our partners over the life of the first strategy:

  • new research has been funded
  • we’ve worked with practitioners and people who use care and support to set research priorities
  • we’ve made social care data easier to access by bringing it together in one place
  • we’ve supported people to make sense of research and get it into practice.

Across Wales, a wide range of organisations have been supporting research and evidence-enriched practice, improvement and innovation in social care. Social Care Wales has developed a joint strategy with Health Education and Improvement Wales that aims to develop the health and social care workforce. Ymlaen will complement this strategy.

But we know there’s still a lot to do to help meet the aspirations for care and support set out in the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014.

The Act sets out a vision where social services work with children and adults, and their families and carers, to safeguard vulnerable individuals, promote prevention and support individual and collective well-being.

The evaluation of the Act (2023) revealed that it still has strong support among citizens and people working in social care in Wales. But there’s frustration that implementation hasn’t been as successful as envisaged.

In developing this strategy, we heard that people want us, with our partners, to address the gap between policy, legislation and strategy and what happens in practice. They want the Act to be delivered for everyone, and for our new strategy to contribute to that goal. Improving people’s lives needs to be at the centre, making sure we balance the needs of the future with what’s needed today – as set out in the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.

Subsequent policies like A Healthier Wales, Wales Innovates and Decarbonising Social Care have reinforced our ambitions for well-being, environmental sustainability, prevention, and supporting people in their own communities. This means growing our capabilities in reablement, rehabilitation and intermediate care, transforming the way we all support children and families, better integration between our health and social care systems, and supporting the sector to achieve net zero by 2030.

Developing and implementing this strategy is also an opportunity to help realise our joint aspirations for Wales to be a fairer country for all. This strategy supports work by a wide range of partners to contribute to tackle discrimination, including through the Anti-Racist Wales Action Plan and the LGBTQ+ Action Plan, as well as the More Than Just Words Welsh language plan, to make a measurable change to current and future generations.

There’s great work going on across social care in Wales. We want to support this by establishing an approach to research, innovation and improvement that's centred on working in collaboration. Agreeing priorities together helps us decide where we should focus our individual and collective efforts.

We also want to strengthen the social care ‘voice’. People working in social care told us they don’t feel their interests are well represented in the public sector. Together, we'll be an authoritative voice, backed by engagement and evidence, to champion social care and make sure their interests are taken into account and heard.

Change brings both risks and opportunities. Managing risk is essential and it should support what matters to the person, not get in the way of it.

What we mean by research, innovation and improvement

We’ve combined research, innovation and improvement in our new strategy as we don’t necessarily think about them as different things. We’re more likely to think about new ways of doing things, making something more person-centred, or understanding what works.

Research means trying to gather new knowledge by addressing defined questions with systematic and rigorous methods. The strategy uses a broad definition of research that includes but also goes beyond academic research to cover practice-based research and evaluation. We want people to feel confident to do their own research in their preferred language, to evaluate their ways of working, and to use evidence to inform their practice. We also want to support our academic research partners to do high-quality research and we’ll promote this across social care.

Innovation is about using fresh knowledge to improve how things are done in a way that’s new to a particular setting, or to social care. Innovation happens in different ways, and on different scales. It can be about making the system easier to work in, changing the way a service is delivered, creating new digital technologies, or introducing new ways to approach practice. Social care practitioners innovate on a daily basis, to respond to what matters to the people they’re supporting. Balancing rights and responsibilities with what matters to people is a key part of their role.

Improvement is more difficult to define and means many things to different people. It involves incremental and positive change, and looking for different ways to plan, manage and deliver care and support. It’s different from innovation because it includes continuity – the new ways of doing things are based on existing models.

Our goal is to embed evidence-enriched decision-making across all levels of social care. We value evidence from different sources, including:

  • research, from both practitioners and specialised researchers
  • experience and wisdom of people who use care and support and carers
  • data and intelligence
  • knowledge and wisdom of practitioners.
A graphic showing the different sources of evidence, as discussed in the text.

People said they want a culture where research, innovation and improvement are valued and central to delivery.

Working with partners

Delivering the vision of this strategy for people leading, developing and delivering social care will need strong collaboration across a wide range of partner organisations. Social Care Wales will lead this new strategy and work with partners to deliver it.

The first strategy was developed by Social Care Wales and Health and Care Research Wales. For the new strategy, a wider set of partners across research, innovation and improvement have collaborated. Together, we’re working on an implementation plan that’ll outline the activities we’ll each commit to. We want a strong collective sense of ownership for the strategy and its delivery.

Social Care Wales will keep track of the implementation and will bring partners and stakeholders together regularly to share progress and agree our future work. We want this to be a ‘living’ strategy, with the flexibility to respond to what social care needs. The implementation needs to be an ongoing conversation, not something we report on from time to time.

To do this, we’ll create groups from our partner organisations and include the people working in social care we’re aiming to support. The groups will be:

  • an oversight group of senior leaders to provide advice, help to oversee the progress and impact of the strategy, and unblock barriers to progress across our partner organisations. This group will also prioritise actions should the capacity or financial resources in social care mean we can’t progress all actions as planned
  • communities of ‘implementers’ from across partners, to create an environment of active sharing, learning and doing.

Social Care Wales is well-placed to drive this work because we lead research, workforce development, improvement, innovation and workforce regulation in social care for Wales.

We’re already doing a lot to help people working in social care to connect, develop skills and knowledge, and to access research and data in ways that work for them.

Our new strategy aims to make each partner’s contribution to research, innovation and improvement support clearer. This is an opportunity for all of us to ‘join the dots’ for people who work in social care and to do the hard work of finding what they need to make a difference to how they provide support.

How we’ll work

Together with our partners, we’ve agreed some key principles of how we’ll work together to implement the strategy.

We’ll listen to and promote the full, rich and diverse range of voices involved in social care, in both Welsh and English. We’ll highlight the voices of people who access care and support and aren’t often listened to or prioritised. We’ll champion equality, diversity and inclusion and advocate for anti-racist systems, structures and practices.

We’ll co-design our support with people involved in social care. Our primary focus is on the people leading, developing and delivering services because that’s how we believe we can achieve our collective vision. This will help us use the knowledge and experience of practitioners to focus on what matters and bring about change that works in practice for people accessing care and support.

We’ll work in partnership to take collective action, where it’s most needed, to make the biggest impact. We’ll avoid duplication and try to ‘join the dots’.

We’ll always learn through our work in developing and delivering this strategy. We’ll learn with and from our partners to create a support system that works well and can adjust to changes. We’ll also learn from people working in and using care and support, and from research and data.

We’ll work together to make the most of technology and digital developments to support strengths-based social care. This will include exploring the ethics and appropriateness of using digital technologies, including artificial intelligence, to develop and deliver social care services.

We’ll adapt and respond to changing circumstances, needs and new knowledge. We’ll be aware of and respond to changing priorities and pressures experienced by those delivering services. We’ll evaluate the strategy as it’s developed and put into practice, and be curious and open about new and sustainable ways of doing things.

The strategy needs to contribute to positive change for people working in, and on, social care in Wales. We want to promote an inclusive culture of evidence-enriched decision-making. In the final section, we set out how we’ll know if the strategy is being successful and having the impact we’re aiming for.

What we'll do with our partners

Set direction





Capturing and telling the story of our impact

Our strategy is designed to be delivered together with our partners. We’ll know this is the case if:

  • partners understand their contribution to the strategy and take collective ownership for delivering the shared vision
  • new and improved partnerships emerge from the strategy through shared knowledge, learning and resources
  • people working in social care access the support available through partners.

We’ll know the strategy has been successful if, on a local, regional and national level:

  • people working in social care have more, and equal, opportunities to share, reflect and learn together
  • innovations are shared and pockets of promising practice spread and grow
  • people working in and leading social care have the confidence and skills to:
    • use evidence in practice and decision making
    • lead and contribute to both improvement and innovation in everyday practice, service development and transformational change
    • evaluate their contribution and demonstrate the difference their work has made
    • lead cultures that make considered, positive risk-taking possible.
  • people in social care have the digital skills needed for their work
  • we have accessible and effective processes to support digital innovation
  • people working in social care know where to access research evidence
  • gaps in data and research are identified and addressed
  • evidence from evaluation is gathered and shared
  • there’s improved availability and use of social care data.

We need to develop a better understanding of the impact of our work. We also need to continuously learn and adapt what we do to maximise the positive difference we can make to people delivering care and support.

We’ll use a method called contribution analysis to capture our impact and tell the story of what we achieve together through this strategy. That means looking at how what we’ve done contributes towards our goal.

We’ll evaluate our impact as we go and be open and transparent about what is and isn’t working. We’ll be flexible, using what we learn to adapt our approach where needed.

Download the strategy

You can download a PDF version of the strategy by clicking on the link below.

First published: 5 October 2023
Last updated: 21 May 2024
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