As a result of ageing in all post-industrialised countries and, correspondingly, ones with changed socio-economic structures – differentiation of family models, singularisation tendencies – the question of progression of the “healthcare market” is gaining in importance.
Treating that issue starts with the question of “innovations in health and social care”, which the Neuendettelsau Diakonie (an independent Christian social welfare institution in Germany) answered in 2009 by founding an independent research and educational institute, the International DiaLog College and Research Institute (IDC).
According to the IDC’s interdisciplinary orientation, the main focus is on the social-scientific research approach. The objective of the subject area “social infrastructure and health” is to associate quantitative as well as qualitative social-scientific research areas. Working with and for people is, thus, the focus of the scientific understanding. This originally qualitative social-scientific approach can be complemented methodologically/structurally as well as quantitatively/empirically by integrating the basic discipline of economics. Precisely the research in the field of health sciences, thus, focuses the analysis and definition of structural conditions and interactive possibilities of the people involved through conscious feedback of methodical aspects and trial strategies. In that regard, research and education represent a common platform of exchange between research and applied practice in the health and social market. In the future, the IDC further intends to respond to the dynamism and professionalisation of health and social economy with an appropriate and unique educational offering (see figure 1). As a result, the activities of the IDC can be differentiated between a research institute and an educational institute.
The research and educational instittute IDC aspires to an optimal balance between innovative research, application-related integration in practice and feedback from findings in education. As a coordination platform, the research institute ensures a continuous adaptation and progression of the educational content in accordance with current scientific knowledge.
Education at IDC can, thus, achieve a balance between entrepreneurial practice orientation and theoretically founded interdisciplinary knowledge transfer.
IDC will offer three Bachelor’s programmes aiming at studying health and social care from the viewpoints of technology, ethics and economics as well as providing students with an ability, based on the basic disciplines of economics and ethics, to tackle the management tasks of a future health and social care enterprise. Through the continuous development and expansion of its educational activities, IDC pursues the goal of training managers, professionals and educators in the fields of health and social care. That intention is further demonstrated by an increased investment in the further education of its staff.
As a social enterprise, the Neuendettelsau Diakonie is a role model in that regard and scrutinises each project and task from ethical, economic and application-oriented angles through a return to its diaconal roots.
The effects that research activity has on shaping the social context represent a particular objective of the IDC research institute. The research priorities that the IDC research institute already has can be divided into two main areas.
On the one hand, institutional issues in health and social care stand in the foreground of research activities. On the other hand, the question of the many conditional factors of infrastructural service and assistance concepts in health and social care represents a focal topic. The first area may include basic research activities such as aspects of team production in long-term care. The second area is characterised by, for instance, the Neuendettelsau Diakonie management of the “accessible health assistance” project, which resulted from the federal government’s top cluster competition (promoted by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research).
In that project, the research focal point of the IDC lies on integrating the user side into the research project. To that effect, the first step consists in running a representative survey of a care and service structure in order to establish and define corresponding requirements, the implementation of which is to be repeatedly examined by technical partners. The novelty to that approach is that a corresponding user profile, expected to result in a business model, is developed and included from the start. Moreover, the ethical dimension of the project constitutes an important element of our own research strategy, both from individual and social-ethical perspectives.
With the research and educational institute, the Neuendettelsau Diakonie has assumed the dual diaconal mission: on the one hand, to work at an ethically sustainable improvement of the living and care conditions of the individual, and on the other hand, to assume the social responsibility of working at the further development of care structures. Especially in health-care, those go hand in hand between science and practice.
The author studied economics. From 1999 to 2004, Dr. Zerth was scientific assistant at a chair for microeconomics. From 2000 to 2010, he was research manager of the research centre for social legislation and health economics at the University of Bayreuth. In 2003 and again in early 2006, he was guest lecturer for microeconomics at SISU, Shanghai. Since 2010, he has been head of the IDC.