As governments and service providers around the world learn from the early years of Social Impact Bonds, a wider outcomes-based contracting landscape is emerging. Originally published in Pro Bono News.
If there’s one thing most people in the social sector agree on, it’s that they want to “make a difference”. This underpins the desire to move from a focus on outputs (where we may not have evidence about whether we are making a difference), to a focus on outcomes that matter to the social service user.
Not-for-profit boards are starting to drive an outcomes focus because part of good governance is to know whether the organisation is doing something that works. An ideal social service system ensures all participants are aligned around improving outcomes for those who need it.
Yet, the social service system is still a long way from that goal.
There are plenty of pitfalls in this transition to outcomes: debates about what and how to measure; costs of data collection; worries about unintended consequences and cherry picking; and the political hurdles in shifting resources to prevention. Yet while difficult, these are technical problems that can be solved with good outcomes-based contract design and a collaborative, co-design approach with government.
We recently attended the ICS (Institute for Child Success) Pay for Success Conference in North Carolina – a conference to support outcomes-based learning with a focus on early childhood disadvantage. We heard from an early intervention project successfully preventing at-risk kids from requiring costly special education services at school. We heard of the shift of $100 million of social service spending to an outcomes basis in the state of Rhode Island. We learned about a project that prevents hospitalisations of high risk asthma patients through allergen removal in the home – saving lives and money. These are some of the dozens of projects in operation now that are based around outcomes.