This article was originally published in Pro Bono News on 4 May 2020.
In the social sector today, there is an understandable rush to manage immediate operations, protect staff, and review face-to-face service delivery. It’s a complex time and it is difficult to see beyond the next week or two. However, senior managers need to start thinking about the phases of adjustment to the COVID-19 crisis across time:
There are a number of significant forces at work:
Increased use of technology – In phase two, social distancing will continue to test the sector’s ability to deliver services in the traditional face-to-face mode. Back office functions will need to simplify but it is also a time to experiment with what parts of the service model can be delivered via technology and what parts require face-to-face interaction.
What does this mean for social organisation strategy? While most organisations have rightfully been focused on phase one adjustment, some of our clients are now entering phase two stabilisation period. We think it is now time to plan for “living with constraints” and for phase three, the “leverage the upswing” phase after social restrictions begin to ease. One way to think about it is that operational management should be focused on phase one, while CEOs and boards need to be planning for phases two and three.
While it is incredibly disruptive, Latitude Network believes that the current upheaval also provides an opportunity for social organisations to accelerate the innovations and performance improvements needed over the next few years. This is exactly what is happening now in manufacturing around the world – technology improvements that might have taken five years are being implemented in one year.
The high-performing social organisation
What does a high-performing social organisation look like? We will need social organisations that use data for evidence-based decision making and continual improvement, leverage technology, have a laser focus on their social impact and outcomes, and develop a “flexible playbook” of opportunities and programs that enable adaptability to changing needs and funding environments. An organisation that can evidence performance to government and other funders, and can also make a convincing case for the economic savings arising from their work.
The daily charting of COVID-19 cases and the entry of epidemiological models into the mainstream discourse have demonstrated how vital good data is at times of uncertainty. Social organisations need live, relevant data that enables them to pinpoint barriers to achieving impact, to identify service approaches that work best for specific cohorts and sub-cohorts and help allocate resources to where the organisation can have the best impact.
Social sector boards are tasked with ensuring organisations maximise their impact. They therefore need to be asking these questions to help with this transition:
As our way to contribute to social organisations in this time of uncertainty, Latitude Network is offering free “Sounding Board” online workshops for the boards and executives of five social sector organisations exploring the questions outlined above. If you are interested please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to book your workshop. We will provide a pre-reading document and a summary of recommendations after the workshop.
This article was originally published in Pro Bono News.
Latitude Network recently took some clients with us on an ‘outcomes tour’ of the US to learn from organisations, funders and governments that are shifting to outcomes-based funding. This includes what the US calls “Pay For Success” projects, and we call Social Impact Bonds, as well as newer forms of outcomes contracting where a range of financial and non-financial incentives are provided for performance. Outcomes-based contracting is when a commissioner of services (usually a government but can include large philanthropy) agrees to fund a social service program where at least some of the funding is contingent upon the organisation achieving a target performance on clear, agreed outcomes metrics for service users.
Key lessons learned -
1) A shift to outcomes funding, while difficult, is a must
Our observation in Australia and in the US is that most people who work in the social sector (including government) want the work they do to lead to improvements in people’s lives. There is generally a strong desire in organisations - from the frontline to the Board - to work towards outcomes. The difficulty is that merely measuring outcomes or drawing up an outcomes framework, while necessary, is often far from sufficient to change behaviours and performance. Funding on the basis of inputs or outputs is a very blunt instrument with very low levels of data or feedback on what is working for long term, relevant outcomes.
Funding on the basis of outcomes, however, can provide the joint incentive to properly define, measure, track and deliver outcomes that matter to the service user. A range of different outcomes have been contracted, from reduction in recidivism, to early childhood development milestones to family reunification. Despite their challenges, everyone we met - from local and state governments such as Ventura County or LA County Department of Mental Health, to impact funders such as Maycomb Capital and First5 LA and service providers such as the Center for Employment Opportunities and Interface - everyone was focused on making the shift to outcomes-based funding.
2) Social Impact Bonds have been a useful tool to kick start the outcomes revolution, but will be only one of many tools for the next era in outcomes funding.
Our discussions with Emily Gustafsson-Wright and Izzy Bogild-Jones at the Brookings Institution highlighted how Social Impact Bonds have had powerful impacts on social sector performance, innovation and flexibility in service delivery, but there is little evidence that they bring a net additional amount of private sector funding into the social sector. This aligns with Latitude Network’s view that outcomes funding is best used to drive alignment of interests and flexibility for innovation between government, social sector and philanthropy, and should not be seen primarily as a tool for increasing private funding of social services.
3) Organisations that build outcomes-funded projects are transformed for the better - especially in managerial focus and performance capability.
All the organisations we spoke to had used the experience of an outcomes contract to drive important changes in capability and process within their organisations. One organisation, Center for Employment Opportunities (or CEO) in New York City, has built a sophisticated outcomes and performance management system that gives visibility to everyone, from the frontline to the Board, on how the organisation is tracking in delivering its mission. The organisation has a strong, singular focus on a cohort of high risk offenders leaving prison. It’s focus allows for a robust program logic and service methodology and it uses detailed performance reporting to achieve employment goals and reduce recidivism. Their data has helped them identify the most effective early responses (e.g. ensuring a client starts a job on the day they turn up), and helps frontline workers adjust their activities by getting regular, timely feedback and learning from high performers. CEO’s outcomes contracts with governments have helped provide the incentives to focus on outcomes.
4) A new ‘Outcomes Partnership’ approach between Government and providers can lead to better achievement of outcomes
Forward-thinking governments are entering into what we are calling ‘Outcomes Partnerships’ with social organisations to work together over time on defining and aligning around key outcomes that matter to services users. These partnerships allow for better targeted procurement procedures from government, adding additional incentives into contracts for achieving short and longer term outcomes, and ensuring transparency of data sharing that can shed light on areas of highest and lowest performance. They also provide a much higher degree of flexibility to both Government and service providers through ‘active contract management’ methods that allow for adjustment of performance goals as theory hits reality.
These partnerships are a part of the journey of various governments in the US to shift large parts of their funding base to be procured on the basis of outcomes rather than inputs or outputs.
Our visit to the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance in Boston revealed a forward-thinking government department that is leading the internal systems and behaviour change required to procure on the basis of outcomes, increase quality and sharing of data and establish trust between government employees and leaders and the social organisations they fund.
Latitude Network and our clients see Outcomes Partnerships as the next important step for the social sector in Australia.
This week's announcement by the Victorian Government of the $100 million Community Infrastructure Loans Scheme, will provide councils with access to low interest rate loans of between $500,000 and $10 million. The loans will apply to community centres and hubs, cultural facilities, public libraries, kindergartens and early learning facilities, heritage building restorations for community use and public spaces like parks, reserves and trails.
The funding will be very competitive and so it will be important to demonstrate how your proposal will not only provide functional benefit to the community but will also deliver real, long-term community outcomes as well.
We call it Outcomes-Based Infrastructure and it is a process that sets up social infrastructure projects so they can make a measurable difference to people's lives, particularly where pockets of disadvantage exist. Brimbank City Council is leading the way with their 'Brimbank Hub' development, which will bring together a world-class leisure centre with a rigorous approach to addressing real social and health inequalities.
Let us know if you would like to talk about how your application for infrastructure funding could become an outcomes-based community infrastructure proposal.
Link to the Premier's announcement
Guidelines for a previous, similar, program
Dale Renner & Russ Wood are excited to announce that Gemma Tovey will be joining Latitude Network from September 2019.
Most recently, Gemma was Strategy & Growth Manager at Melbourne City Mission’s Hester Hornbrook Academy. Prior to this role Gemma managed Melbourne City Mission’s Social Enterprise portfolio where she founded and subsequently managed MCM’s ‘CQ Cultural Consulting’ business, among other achievements.
Gemma has qualifications in Law and and is a graduate of Leadership Victoria’s Williamson Community Leadership Program and of the Australian Institute of Management’s Project Management program.
Gemma brings an incredible commitment and passion along with a unique set of skills and experience to Latitude Network as we work with like-minded organisations to understand and interpret the future world of outcomes-driven social and community services delivery. Like Latitude Network’s two founders, Gemma is passionate about redesigning systems to improve the delivery of services that support disadvantaged communities.
From day one, Gemma will be involved with:
Gemma can be reached on:
The South Australian Government opened its second round of Social Impact Investments, with a focus on better outcomes for children and young people in out-of-home care, and after leaving guardianship. This follows South Australia's first social impact investment in the Aspire homelessness program delivered by The Hutt St Centre.
Interestingly, the Commonwealth Government is providing $5m as partner with the South Australian Treasury Department, as an early foray into learning and engaging in the social impact investment space.
Latitude Network is assisting with the preparation and development of an application focusing on improved outcomes from the residential care context.
New South Wales
The NSW Office of Social Impact Investment (OSII) is reviewing proposals from three organisations focusing on Indigenous employment and empowerment. Latitude Network was been supporting one Indigenous organisation through the 'co-development phase' where OSII collaborated with the social organisation to advise and develop a proposal together. The intent is to support organisations to prepare robust proposals that are more likely to meet Treasury's requirements and be successful through what can sometimes be an arduous 'Joint Development Phase' of financial and contract negotiations to conclude a social benefit (impact) bond legal agreement.
The Victorian Treasury is a long way through negotiations with two organisations in the 'Joint Development Phase' for its next round of social impact bond investments. This round focuses on primary and secondary school aged children who have become disengaged from school and have a variety of other complexities in their lives. Latitude Network is supporting Melbourne City Mission and the Hester Hornbrook Academy in the negotiations.
Yesterday’s release by Infrastructure Australia of its annual Infrastructure Audit is a timely reminder of how important capital spending is to our social, community and health sectors.
It is also a reminder of how ineffective our social infrastructure currently is in addressing some of the growing and increasingly complex health and social challenges facing our communities.
The report notes that it is the challenge of operating within ‘sector-based structures’ and the ‘lack of integration’ that stops us from effectively addressing these challenges through our infrastructure investments. Indeed, it can often make things worse as a result of getting differing levels and types of services depending on where people live (p.394).
Perhaps the most critical statement in this section of the report, however, is the following:
“…challenges remain, however, in overcoming sector-based planning, funding and governance structures which limit the incentives for different infrastructure sectors to work together to improve benefits to communities.” (p. 394)
The take-out here is that the success of an infrastructure investment should not be measured by the quality or scale of the build itself but the extent to which it delivers solutions to complex and enduring social and health challenges. To do that, it requires a process that breaks down silos and creates incentives for different parts of the infrastructure system to work together with outcomes at the centre.
Latitude Network’s work with Brimbank City Council in Victoria as well as Logan City council in Qld has delivered a process which puts the social and health focus at the core of the investment, including the identification of outcomes, service delivery approaches, cross-sector partners and governance structures. The planning, design, construction as well as the operations can then proceed, confident that we are arming this piece of infrastructure with the tools it will need to truly have an impact.