Monday, April 24, 2017

Unleash the creative potential of Social Impact Bonds

In a previous blog based on my latest advisory trip to Japan, I noted that Japan is currently ‘translating’ the SIB model in order for it to be implemented in a way that is appropriate to its specific social, economic, political and cultural context. I have encouraged Japanese colleagues not to simply think that SIBs are and always will be what they currently look like. Instead, they should approach it creatively, making it work better for all. There is a risk that an innovation, such as SIBs, may be abandoned because of disillusionment with early versions of it, which may not have fulfilled the creative potential that may be on offer. Here, I describe four reasons why I think current SIBs have only scratched the surface of what may be possible.

Outcome payers

In the UK, we have become rather lazy with our terminology. I often hear people swap ‘commissioner’ for ‘outcome payer’. In doing so, there is a real risk that we limit the way we think about who outcome payers can or should be. Apart from public bodies, who else may be interested in paying for outcomes? What types of outcomes may they be interested in paying for?

If outcome payers are ever only going to be public sector commissioners, then we need to question whether SIBs are indeed channelling ‘new’ or ‘different’ funds. After all, if all outcome payments to investors are ultimately made by public sector commissioners, then the monies will only ever come from direct taxation.

Transaction costs

Read any publication or attend any conference on SIBs, and you will head the refrain: “SIBs have high transaction costs”. Again, rather than simply accept this as an immutable fact, I challenge the market to design these costs out of future SIBs. We have good evidence that this is possible, at least for some types of transaction costs. For example, we know that vested commercial interests can cause some intermediary organisations to develop SIBs that are unnecessarily complicated. Similarly our evaluation of the Essex County Council SIB found that when the various players are more concerned about minimising risks to themselves, they can end up with a contract that is too complicated and therefore imposes ongoing costs. As our experience in Essex shows, these can be designed out of a SIB even after it has gone ‘live’.

Who bears the risks?

An attraction of SIBs is that we introduce a new group of stakeholders called ‘social investors’ into the picture, who have higher risk appetites and are socially minded. However, the fact that 7 out of the 10 SIBs in the US have over half of their values guaranteed by philanthropic organisations really causes us to question who is really bearing the risk? Are we attracting the ‘right’ types of investors into the market or are we distorting the market to suit certain types of investors? In addition, there is also evidence that some social investors can try to pass on some of the risks to service providers, for example, by providing part of the capital as a loan rather than as revenue. We must therefore be clear about who bears what risks, and whether these models are true to the ideal of the SIB aspiration.

Is it all about savings?

In a blog I wrote last year, I argued that SIBs do not have to be about savings, and showed different ways of constructing alternatives. SIBs are about social outcomes. To reduce social outcomes to only those that generate financial savings for the public purse is highly limiting. This, again, draws attention to the limitations of thinking of ‘outcome payers’ only as ‘commissioners’. Even amongst commissioners, financial savings do not have to be the only motivator. We need to ask ourselves the question: “Outcomes for whom?” when we design SIBs. If we never ask service users what success looks or feels like to them, then what message are we sending out about SIBs? Whose interests do they serve?

Conclusion

Current SIBs have barely scratched the surface of what may be possible. Rather than allowing them to ossify into what they currently look like, we should challenge ourselves to keep pushing the creative potential of the idea of a SIB. In the process of doing so, we must never lose sight of outcomes and how they can be meaningfully defined.

Dr Chih Hoong Sin, Director, Innovation and Social Investment

Monday, April 24, 2017

Unleash the creative potential of Social Impact Bonds

In a previous blog based on my latest advisory trip to Japan, I noted that Japan is currently ‘translating’ the SIB model in order for it to be implemented in a way that is appropriate to its specific social, economic, political and cultural context. I have encouraged Japanese colleagues not to simply think that SIBs are and always will be what they currently look like. Instead, they should approach it creatively, making it work better for all. There is a risk that an innovation, such as SIBs, may be abandoned because of disillusionment with early versions of it, which may not have fulfilled the creative potential that may be on offer. Here, I describe four reasons why I think current SIBs have only scratched the surface of what may be possible.

Outcome payers

In the UK, we have become rather lazy with our terminology. I often hear people swap ‘commissioner’ for ‘outcome payer’. In doing so, there is a real risk that we limit the way we think about who outcome payers can or should be. Apart from public bodies, who else may be interested in paying for outcomes? What types of outcomes may they be interested in paying for?

If outcome payers are ever only going to be public sector commissioners, then we need to question whether SIBs are indeed channelling ‘new’ or ‘different’ funds. After all, if all outcome payments to investors are ultimately made by public sector commissioners, then the monies will only ever come from direct taxation.

Transaction costs

Read any publication or attend any conference on SIBs, and you will head the refrain: “SIBs have high transaction costs”. Again, rather than simply accept this as an immutable fact, I challenge the market to design these costs out of future SIBs. We have good evidence that this is possible, at least for some types of transaction costs. For example, we know that vested commercial interests can cause some intermediary organisations to develop SIBs that are unnecessarily complicated. Similarly our evaluation of the Essex County Council SIB found that when the various players are more concerned about minimising risks to themselves, they can end up with a contract that is too complicated and therefore imposes ongoing costs. As our experience in Essex shows, these can be designed out of a SIB even after it has gone ‘live’.

Who bears the risks?

An attraction of SIBs is that we introduce a new group of stakeholders called ‘social investors’ into the picture, who have higher risk appetites and are socially minded. However, the fact that 7 out of the 10 SIBs in the US have over half of their values guaranteed by philanthropic organisations really causes us to question who is really bearing the risk? Are we attracting the ‘right’ types of investors into the market or are we distorting the market to suit certain types of investors? In addition, there is also evidence that some social investors can try to pass on some of the risks to service providers, for example, by providing part of the capital as a loan rather than as revenue. We must therefore be clear about who bears what risks, and whether these models are true to the ideal of the SIB aspiration.

Is it all about savings?

In a blog I wrote last year, I argued that SIBs do not have to be about savings, and showed different ways of constructing alternatives. SIBs are about social outcomes. To reduce social outcomes to only those that generate financial savings for the public purse is highly limiting. This, again, draws attention to the limitations of thinking of ‘outcome payers’ only as ‘commissioners’. Even amongst commissioners, financial savings do not have to be the only motivator. We need to ask ourselves the question: “Outcomes for whom?” when we design SIBs. If we never ask service users what success looks or feels like to them, then what message are we sending out about SIBs? Whose interests do they serve?

Conclusion

Current SIBs have barely scratched the surface of what may be possible. Rather than allowing them to ossify into what they currently look like, we should challenge ourselves to keep pushing the creative potential of the idea of a SIB. In the process of doing so, we must never lose sight of outcomes and how they can be meaningfully defined.

Dr Chih Hoong Sin, Director, Innovation and Social Investment

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Japan’s first steps in developing Social Impact Bonds

Dr Chih Hoong Sin is in Tokyo for a third year running, this time to find out about the experiences of the Yokohama City Social Impact Bond (SIB) pilot. It has been a real privilege working with a diverse group of stakeholders from the outset as they initially learned about the UK experience in implementing SIBs, and then took steps to develop and test a model for Japan. I have written previously about specific learning shared with Japanese colleagues. In this blog, I make further comparisons between the Japanese and UK experiences.

Travelling well?

SIBs originated in the UK and have since spread to many other countries. It is easy to understand why the idea of a SIB is so attractive to governments internationally. It purports to only ‘pay for success’ and holds the promise of helping governments save money.

Japan contributed to the OECD’s Social Impact Investment Taskforce’s work to better harness the power of entrepreneurship, innovation and capital for public good. The Japanese Ministry for Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has been funding a five-year study by a consortium led by Meiji University, while three other Central Government departments have expressed interests in developing SIBs. The Nippon Foundation has also played an intermediary role in coordinating three small-scale early pilots in 2015.

It is fair to say that as SIBs developed within and beyond the UK, there has been a constant process of adaptation. Each country has had to do a considerable amount of ‘translation’ to enable the model to be implemented in its particular national, regional and local context.

Japan, similarly, is trying to figure out an appropriate form of SIB that suits its unique socio-political, economic, and cultural milieu. For example, voluntary sector organisations tend to be small and hyper-local; there is a lack of participative governance in terms of the structure of central and local government relationships; and despite the huge national debt the government has no problems accessing cheap capital.

It is therefore naïve, and frankly wrong, to think that there is a singular SIB model that can be transposed with ease.

What might help?

Japan, drawing lessons from the UK, recognised the importance of stimulating the development of a social investment market. Taking a lead from the model set by the UK in creating Big Society Capital (BSC), Japan recently passed the Dormant Bank Account Act whereby a portion of the money will be transferred to a foundation independent from government who will act as a wholesaler (like BSC) in which money is lent or invested in social investment intermediary institutions who go on to invest in frontline social sector organisations. There is also interest in setting up impact bond funds, akin to the ones in the UK.

However, it is not sufficient if governments only see their role in terms of providing the money either to pay for outcomes or to grow the social investment market. In Japan, we hear that the pilots have struggled with being able to identify the right outcome metrics and being able to conduct measurement consistently and robustly. This area seems under-developed in comparison with the UK where the government has invested significantly in developing the evidence base for outcome measurement and for pricing outcomes.

The UK government has also set up the Government Outcomes Lab: a partnership with the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford, to support commissioners to better engage with outcomes contracting.

There has been legislative change that support development in this area. For example, the social investment tax relief aims to attract individual social investors, complementing Big Society Capital’s effort at growing the market of institutional investors. The Public Services (Social Value) Act additionally requires public bodies in England and Wales to give due consideration to improving local economic, social and environmental outcomes through commissioning.

I will be encouraging participants at the Social Impact Forum at Yokohama City on 22 April 2017 to consider the specific forms of support that should be put in place, and who might be responsible for doing what, to enable SIBs and social investment more generally to flourish in Japan, and in ways that truly bring about social outcomes.

Dr Chih Hoong Sin, Director, Innovation and Social Investment

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Working together for a stronger society – Our response to the Lords Select Committee of Charities Report

Charities play a vital role in the ongoing social and economic success of the UK. At the same time, funding for charities has changed significantly. Funding received as grants has decreased over time, while contract funding has been increasing dramatically.

Our response to the Charities Report shows that charities need better support to build their capacity, so they can deliver public services and access suitable finance. Commissioners also need support to develop social value for service users. OPM Group’s social finance experts Dr Chih Hoong Sin and Sheila Pardoe have summarised their experience and comment on the Charities Report.

 

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.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Evaluation report – Learning into practice project

OPM was commissioned to produce an evaluation report on the Learning into Practice Project (LiPP) which was funded under DfE’s Innovation Programme and ran by NSPCC and SCIE.

The LiPP was testing a proof of concept – aiming to establish what is needed on an ongoing and sustainable basis to improve the quality and use of Serious Case Reviews (SCR)  in England. The LiPP consisted of four main workstreams:

Our evaluation was asked to explore:

The evaluation involved 63 qualitative interviews with those involved in LiPP activities; and an online survey aimed at non-participants in the LiPP activities to explore wider views on the proposals. 126 people completed this. Alongside the external evaluation, the project team conducted an internal evaluation of the LiPP, focussing on describing the mechanisms being tested, and the emerging learning from these.

Please find this report and other evaluation reports under the same Innovation Programme on DfE’s website.