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.
The ‘artist formerly known as a Social Impact Bond’ is back. And with a new name.
The Victorian State Government has just announced its second formal round of outcomes-based funding opportunities. And, regardless of name – these are serious opportunities to co-design fully-funded investments into service interventions that really work to close gaps for cohorts of disadvantaged Victorians.
The Government’s Statement of Intent, issued Friday 29 June 2018, is critical reading. It indicates that the Department of Treasury & Finance wants proposals from those who work in the following policy areas:
Just as with the first round of opportunities that delivered two contracts – one through Sacred Heart Mission and the other through Anglicare/VincentCare, to be considered for this round you’ll need to be well prepared.
The key things you’ll need to cover in your application are listed here:
Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) are a powerful new tool to align the interests of social organisations, governments and investors around proven social impact. While this form of funding is still in its early stage, there are some principles that are emerging. It is clear that a SIB will not be appropriate for all social programs - the need for robust proof of impact attributed to the intervention, and the involvement of investors and multiple government departments makes SIBs complicated instruments.
We encourage social organisations to think about the future of outcomes-based funding for programs. With new SIB funding rounds opening up, social organisations are asking - do I have the right kind of program and support to be successful in applying for a SIB?
There are several key dimensions to consider before beginning your application for a SIB.
> A vision
What is it that you are trying to achieve and for whom? A SIB is a long, challenging process, so your senior management need to have a clear and unified vision of why you want to proceed. While this will help sustain you when the complexity is greatest it will also help you convince Government that your organisation – your intervention – is ready to be taken through this process.
> A clearly defined problem
SIBs allow you to create, fund, measure and adapt an existing or new service response to a specific health or social need and for a specific cohort of people. The organisation needs to be very clear about the target cohort for the program. Develop a view on why, where and how the existing sets of services are inadequate. Demonstrate (ideally with existing evidence) how your proposal will solve the problem. Ideally, you have an existing intervention that you wish to ‘scale’ through a SIB, although this is not essential.
Should social organisations pursue growth, and if they do, how should they do it?, asks Dale Renner. (First published Pro Bono News 13 June 2017)
“Growth” can be a controversial word in the social sector. Social service leaders sometimes say “our job is eventually to go out of business”, implying that in some unspecified way, social problems will be solved and will remove demand for assistance. Yet, as the sector moves from grant-based to individualised funding, it becomes important to have a view on what growth means to social services organisations.
The ethical case for growth
Growth in this context doesn’t mean growing the amount of money spent on social programs in the aggregate. The focus is on growth at the program, or possibly organisation, level.
To understand the case for growth, agreement is first needed on what outcomes the community desires – many are obvious such as reducing crime, family violence, homelessness and Indigenous disadvantage. It is also important to understand what programs are proven to achieve that outcome for a certain cohort of people (noting there are levels of proof from anecdote through to randomised controlled trial). Growing the reach of those proven programs to benefit a greater number of people is surely an ethical pursuit as it reduces human suffering and harm. So at first blush, if a program is successful, for example, in helping to improve universal child literacy, it has a prima facie case for growth.