Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) have recently become part of the public services landscape in the UK and internationally. In a SIB contract, public sector commissioners partner with private or Third Sector social investors to fund interventions that seek to tackle complex social issues. Under these arrangements, non-government investors cover the upfront costs necessary to set up the interventions implemented by service providers, while the government commissioner commits to pay a return on investment if pre-defined desired outcomes are reached.
In the field of health and social care, nine projects across England, collectively known as the SIB ‘trailblazers’, have received seed funding from the government’s Social Enterprise Investment Fund to evaluate and potentially implement a SIB. The Department of Health’s Policy Research Programme has commissioned an independent evaluation of these projects from PIRU, in partnership with RAND Europe, to explore their potential benefits and costs.
The objectives of this project are:
A report with interim findings from the early evaluation was completed in March 2015. The interim report describes the progress of the nine ‘Trailblazer’ projects that received funds from the Social Enterprise Investment Fund in 2013 to investigate the feasibility of setting up SIB projects in health and social care in England.
The findings in this report are based on a review of the SIB literature, documentary analysis and qualitative interviews with key informants involved in UK SIB development undertaken between May and November 2014.
The Trailblazers cover a variety of health and social care issues and are in different stages of development. As of December 2014, two projects were operational, and five projects were still in negotiation. Two Trailblazers will not become SIBs as one project has been fully funded by a public commissioner and the other was terminated before the contractual stage. The interim report details the diversity of models and approaches to SIB development across the nine Trailblazer projects.
The literature review finds that little empirical data about SIBs has been produced to date. There is a much larger academic, policy and ‘grey’ literature focused on the theoretical impacts of SIBs in funding and providing public services. Early empirical fieldwork data align closely with the existent literature.
Key findings from the documentary analysis and interviews in the nine Trailblazers are that:
The blog "Dream of Social Impact Bonds should not blind us to their dangers" by Mildred Warner can be accessed here>>
The blog "Ethical risks of marketising public services demand caution" by Julia Morley can be accessed here>>
The blog "SIBs may be overhyped but their focus on outcomes is a vital policy innovation" by Alex Nicholls can be accessed here>>
An international conference on SIBs was held in London in September 2016. The programme and presentations can be accessed here>>
A literature review on SIBs was published in Social Policy and Administration in October 2016 and can be accessed here>>
An interim report of the SIBs Trailblazer evaluation was published in March 2015 and can be accessed here>>