Wednesday, February 7, 2018

NSIP Event 2018

One of our Principals, Lucy Farrow, will be talking at the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects event today.

She is discussing how Dialogue by Design (part of OPM Group) became the UK’s leading provider for Consultation and Engagement for infrastructure projects. We have worked on some of the UK’s highest profile projects and have delivered over 20 NSIP consultations.

See below or follow our tweets today on @OPMNetwork and @DbyDteam to keep up with her 6 Steps to NSIP Consultation Success.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A radical proposition for changing the way we design SIBs – A service provider perspective

We have both written, previously, with energy and enthusiasm for SIBs; about the benefits they can bring. We still believe that to be true but we also believe that it is important not to lose sight of the potential challenges and downsides. From a service provider point of view, there is a risk that we can find ourselves in a difficult position once the SIB funding has gone. It can be difficult to sell something you have been able to deliver for free for three or four years under a SIB model. It is not impossible: you can sell to some, but not to all.

We recognize that the issue of having to charge for a previously ‘free’ service is not an issue that confronts all previously SIB-ed services. This is where the issue of ‘who has been paying’ and ‘who has been benefitting’ comes in. With SIBs being deployed across cross-cutting social issues, those who pay for outcomes are not always the only ones benefitting. At the end of a SIB, it can be challenging to persuade those other organizational beneficiaries to pay for some of the outcomes they have been enjoying over the duration of a SIB.

What that means is that the people who have been working tirelessly to get the expected results are left wondering: “What next? Another SIB? Great, if there is one on the horizon, or alternatively, look for another job.” It would be a real shame to lose good staff with all their knowledge and passion. The uncertainty towards the final phases of SIB delivery can affect the quality of delivery at a time when delivery needs to be at its best — the opportunity to ‘sell’ the product subsequently.

So what can we do? We could build in a period of adjustment, into costs, say, to cover six months of adjustment post the SIB delivery period. This would allow for the service provider to adjust to the change in a way that minimizes the impact on delivery during the final phases of the SIB.

It would allow those organizations that have benefitted from some of the outcomes from the SIB-ed service to have a period when the service is longer there. This is, of course, a contentious issue and is meant to be provocative. There is a case for arguing, nonetheless, that those organizations that have been benefitting from programmes but who have never had to pay often end up taking these programmes for granted. They do not necessarily understand the real value of things that they have been enjoying for free. Planning proactively for a period of withdrawal could prompt these other organizational beneficiaries to miss the programme and consider more clearly the case of buying in the service. All the while, the infrastructure and workforce for the intervention remain intact so that the programme can be mobilized at short notice. We all know that, sometimes, to truly appreciate something, you may have to do without it, feel the loss and take action to get it back!

So who could pay for this? Well, social investors. In the spirit of re-investing in services, this would go a long way to demonstrating their commitment to its principles. They could set an amount to support the service provider during this period of transition. This would allow the service provider to maintain good staff, engage with ‘new clients’ directly and agree costs. After all, it’s always cheaper to maintain an existing service that has been proven to work than to scrap it and rebuild it subsequently.

Indeed, true social investment is about sustainability. Under a SIB model, we continue tracking outcomes for those in direct receipt of services for a period of time after the SIB-ed programme delivery has ended. If we can do this for the direct service recipients, why would we not want to do that for delivery partners? There is growing recognition of the importance of capacity building within the voluntary and community service provider worlds to engage in outcomes contract and public service delivery more generally. There is further recognition that a healthy market for service provision should include diverse, small local players, so as to avoid larger players monopolizing the market. Changing the design of SIBs to actively promote the sustainability of such players will be transformative.

We continue to look at ways in which Social Investment can be utilized to support better outcomes for Children and Young People and are in early discussion with investors to see how Social Investment can support the growth of the newly formed Manchester Youth and Play Trust-Young Manchester


Michelle Farrell-Bell, Chief Executive, Young Manchester

Dr Chih Hoong Sin, Director of Innovation and Social Investment, OPM Group

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

What’s your Corporate Responsibility value? What, how and why to measure impact

How can you know what impact your corporate responsibility activity made? Can you know what’s changed because of what you’re doing?

These questions can lead many down a rabbit hole of thinking programme evaluation and impact measurement is daunting – if not impossible.

As a research consultancy, we’ve heard many thoughts about the limitations of evaluating and measuring programmes and outcomes:

We get it. When corporate responsibility isn’t your day job, or even if it is, the process of designing research tools, talking to the right beneficiaries and analysing your data might be pushed down the long To-Do list.

But, as many participants were likely reminded of at the Heart of the City’s workshop on “Data, Information and Insight: understanding your impact” last week, measuring the value of a programme develops insights that can substantively make a case for your corporate responsibility story: to the Finance Director, the CEO and clients.

This is important. Whether we’ve come to corporate responsibility deliberately or accidentally, it’s hard to ignore the benefits a well-designed programme has on staff, communities and (eco)systems.

But what are these benefits? And, how do we know this? What can be improved?

Understanding your impact supports your organisation in demonstrating how its values and mission are being met and lets your team and organisation improve activities and programmes for the future.

However, while most organisations are great at communicating what they want to do:

“We will reduce poverty in the local area our office operates in by December.”

“We will reduce our carbon footprint by 5% by composting tea bags over 12 months.”

From our experience, there are 3 questions many organisations could improve on asking:

  1. What will change (for the organisation or communities) by doing what you want to do?
  2. Why will that change occur?
  3. What data do we already have that can generate this insight?

But – how can organisations ask these questions differently – or better?

One way is a tool called Theory of Change. This might be the first time you’re hearing of it, or maybe your organisation is already using the tool. But, so we’re on the same page, a recap:

The tool and thinking process to develop it:

Getting started

Last week, Tarran MacMillan and I were thrilled to work with fellow Heart of the City newcomers during our workshop, “What’s your value: how to know what, how and why to measure impact.”

During the session, we led participants through a Theory of Change exercise using our experience delivering workshops with the tool and evaluating our own corporate responsibility activity that we recently completed for the Migration Museum Project, a UK-based charity.

Example questions

  1. Action: what would your organisation like to achieve with its corporate responsibility programme?
  2. Activities: what does your organisation need to meet this goal?
  3. Change: what will happen as a result of your organisation’s corporate responsibility activities?

A Theory of Change can be produced at any point, though it’s most useful when developed collaboratively at the outset of a programme and referred to and adapted throughout as the programmes or goals change.

Programme and activity measurement can feel like a task to be done later, but the Theory of Change reminds us that getting started from the beginning helps you track useful data from the beginning that you can use to prove the great work you and your corporate responsibility team are doing.

Have you tried it?

If you’re interested to learn more, contact Dr Peter Welsh.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Why, in whole systems, is it so hard to move from papers to action?

This is a shorter version – full version of the above is available here:  full version.

One of the strangest experiences in whole systems change in the public sector is observing how much energy is spent writing papers that are not acted upon, attending meetings that don’t make decisions, and holding workshops that lead to elaborate diagrams but no agreement to proceed.

Ron Heifetz [1]coined the phrase ‘work avoidance’ to describe the way leaders are distracted from the difficult conversations that need to take place if we’re to achieve ambitious outcomes in tough times. Work avoidance is quite the opposite of laziness, indeed to avoid the real leadership work we often exhaust ourselves with back-to-back meetings, and slave over hundreds of pages of data and vast action plans.

Work avoidance, says Heifetz, can take a number of different forms:

It can feel discomfiting to talk about deep feelings and intentions when we are used to an impassive managerial style in our meetings. It can seem like ‘not proper work’ to discuss fears and worries. A flurry of meetings gives a reassuring sense of activity, while difficult conversations can get stuck, or go backwards for a while. But real leadership takes time and self-conscious effort – it involves telephone calls, and meetings in coffee shops, reflection and self-examination, looking into our own hearts to find our values and priorities. It can seem destructive to challenge work avoidance activity, since people are clearly working very hard. Finding ways to do so without blaming individuals is an important part of leadership. But, just as an experiment, if you suspect your ‘system’ is locked into work avoidance, try some of the following:

This is an extract from a longer article that can be found on our website. For more information about OPM’s work on system leadership – contact Sue Goss, Principal in whole-system change and integration –, 020 7239 7800

[1] See, for example, Ron Heifetz: Leadership Without Easy Answers, Harvard University Press, 1994


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The impact of learning and sharing on the development of Social Impact Bonds

In this third blog of my 2017 series inspired by my advisory visit to Japan, I reflect on the importance of international learning and sharing for improving Social Impact Bonds (SIBs). While honoured to have been an expert advisor to colleagues in Japan over the past three years, helping the country take its first steps to develop SIBs; I have also benefitted hugely from the opportunity to learn from them and others.

Here I reflect on the impact of international learning and sharing on two specific areas, based on my Japanese experience.

Role of government

In a previous blog, I argued that governments have key roles to play in supporting the growth of SIBs (and social investment more widely). As I shared the UK lessons during the Social Impact Forum at Yokohama City, I also heard from Australian colleagues who put forward a similar view. What was notable was the fact the New South Wales Government in Australia has actually issued a social investment policy committing to two SIB transactions per year. While the UK Government has been hugely supportive of SIBs, the support has been enacted in different ways. We do not have a specific policy committing us to a specific number of SIBs per year. As Australian colleagues noted, this policy really focusses minds and has mobilised everyone to work together. The machinery of government has been aligned to support this, for example by building in evaluation; by developing policy reviews and analyses; by assessing the effectiveness of known interventions in priority policy areas, etc.

Japanese colleagues, reflecting on their (still very recent) experience, observed that while the Japanese government has made certain overtures indicating interest in SIBs, they have been far less proactive and engaged in stimulating growth, compared with Australia and the UK. It has been very challenging to engage with central government, leaving local governments and their non-profit organisation partners to try lobbying for change while attempting to make things happen on a very small scale.

This comparative approach enabled us to work closely with Japanese colleagues to share specific recommendations for engaging with central government, while also drawing in lessons from related developments and how these have successfully captured the imagine of governments, such as Climate Bonds.

The purpose of SIBs

Another area where the comparative approach surfaced important issues for scrutiny is the motivation behind SIBs. While much of the discourse in the UK, US and Australia is underpinned by a strong ‘savings’ narrative, Japan seems to be more minded to develop SIBs that are focussed squarely on improving wellbeing even when this may not lead to any discernible savings for the public purse.

In challenging the dominant discourse around SIBs, Japanese colleagues tapped into a creative seam of thinking around constructing SIBs on a very different foundation. We were able to share specific models of how this may be done, proceeding to advise Japanese colleagues about the implications for outcome metric selection and outcome modelling. At the same time, this re-focussing enabled us to build a stronger narrative and practice around more meaningful user-defined outcomes in the UK, counter-balancing the more dominant system-defined outcomes approach. I have certainly woven this into my work with Northern, Eastern and Western Devon Clinical Commissioning Group on their SIB to tackle alcohol dependency.


One of the downsides of working in the SIB field is that although we all assert that “things change very quickly”, we have yet to demonstrate willingness to share experiences, learning and data. Indeed, I have often encountered strong opposition towards sharing, under the guise of “commercial and/or political sensitivity”.

At the same time, we all call for transaction costs to be reduced as the current high costs make it difficult for SIBs to be sustainable. Surely one of the ways to bring down transaction costs is for better sharing of information and experiences so that others do not have to reinvent the wheel every time a new SIB is being developed. This glaring contradiction does not escape me and many others. It is time that we have the courage and humility to learn and share more widely.

Dr Chih Hoong Sin, Director, Innovation and Social Investment

Thursday, March 23, 2017

How should health services listen better?

OPM Group has been working with health organisations and patients for many years. We support patients to have a say in decisions that affect them and how services are designed for them. We support health providers with complaints analysis, consultation analysis, engagement activities, research and evaluation. Here is a summary of our services and examples of our work. We hope you will contact us to discuss how we can help your organisation to listen better.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Commissioning for Outcomes – The role of social finance

Can social finance help with the challenges that public commissioning faces?

This paper is intended as a provocation to government, commissioners, providers and investors to begin a richer conversation that doesn’t assume we already know the answers. OPM’s experts in commissioning for outcomes (Sue Goss) and in social finance (Chih Hoong) draw on their learning about systems leadership, experience of teaching commissioning programmes and our work in evaluating social investment experiments.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Commissioning for Outcomes – The role of social finance

Can social finance help with the challenges that public commissioning faces?

This paper is intended as a provocation to government, commissioners, providers and investors to begin a richer conversation that doesn’t assume we already know the answers. OPM’s experts in commissioning for outcomes (Sue Goss) and in social finance (Chih Hoong) draw on their learning about systems leadership, experience of teaching commissioning programmes and our work in evaluating social investment experiments.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Independent evaluation of the Essex Multi Systemic Therapy Social Impact Bond

For the past three years OPM has undertaken an independent evaluation of the Essex County Council Multi Systemic Therapy (MST) Social Impact Bond (SIB). The Social Impact Bond delivers MST to children and young people at risk of being taken into the local authority care.  The Social Impact Bond has been managed by Children’s Support Services Ltd, a Special Purpose Vehicle, established by Social Finance.

The purpose of OPM’s work has been to evaluate the potential added value that can be achieved through local authority and other commissioners using Social Impact Bonds as a mechanism for financing the delivery of new services.  Specifically, whether the use of a SIB impacted on the implementation of MST and whether significant value was added to either outcomes or performance.

The evaluation highlights many instances where the use of the SIB has been seen to add value to systems and processes and indirectly to overall performance.  It also draws attention to some additional costs and complexities which may result from operating through a SIB and how these can be mitigated.  Drawing on a variety of quantitative and qualitative evidence and insights, OPM have now summarised their findings and used this to inform a set of recommendations applicable to organisations that may be considering developing SIBs of their own.

In addition, OPM have drawn on the evaluation findings to develop a new guide on ‘Top Tips for developing and implementing a Social Impact Bond’ – an interactive document for commissioners, providers, funders and managers.  While summarising the Essex experience and including examples from Essex to illustrate specific points, this also brings in themes from the wider evidence base, with the aim of distilling lessons that have wider applicability.

The Essex SIB was the first local authority commissioned SIB to be established in the UK and the experience and findings reflect its innovative nature.  It was launched in 2013 and will be operational for five years, concluding in 2018. Two teams from Action for Children have delivered an MST intervention to approximately 260 young people to date resulting an in an approximately 80% rate of successful care diversion.   MST is an evidence-based programme that seeks to improve parenting and rebuild positive family relationships, enabling families to manage future crisis situations themselves.






Thursday, February 9, 2017

New approaches to patient and public engagement

In 2016, OPM principals Rob Francis and Helen Brown worked with Birmingham CrossCity CCG to review their public and patient engagement structures. In this article, Rob talks about how the work took shape, what it helped to achieve and what we can all learn as a result.