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Final evaluation of Peterborough Prison resettlement scheme finds it cut reoffending by 9%, so why was it halted half way through?
There’s no free lunch. Yet across the country, advocates of Pay for Success (PFS), or Social Impact Bonds (SIBs), serve up this alternative private financing model as a cost-free, risk-free silver bullet to support critical, yet underfunded, public services.
The pilot was widely claimed to have been set up to stimulate innovation, although it was based on a previous model already developed by St Giles trust. Nevertheless, the SIB funding was found to be flexible and allowed staff to use a personalised budget approach to resolve issues for individual service users as well as incentivising engagement.
Finally, five years since the first impact bond, we have yet to see whether impact bonds will lead to sustained impact on the lives of beneficiaries beyond the impact bond contract duration. The existing literature states that impact bonds could lead to sustained impact by demonstrating to government that a sector or intervention type is worth funding or by improving the quality of programmes by instilling a culture of outcome achievement, monitoring, and evaluation.
The PbR model appears to be incentivising delivery as intended and there is no evidence of perverse incentives. The ethos of the provider organisations means that they are both committed to continuing support for those who remain on the streets.
As we have come to expect, there are significant benefits to the SIB approach but also some serious challenges. Most stakeholders involved in SIBs, especially service providers, had a positive experience to the extent that most see themselves as likely to be involved in delivering Social Impact Bonds in the future. The Payment by Results approach places an intense focus on outcomes and greater impact for beneficiaries.
Overall the evaluation concluded that the SIB/PbR process had stimulated providers to bring together different elements of best and effective practice in an innovative manner using a “navigator” approach where a single role: “supports a client along the entire pathway from the street/point of first contact and blends direct support with wider provision brokered and coordinated to sustain long term outcomes”
So what do we make of these results? To me they represent a mixed picture, there’s no denying that reoffending has been reduced. However, we would normally expect a high level of performance from such a high profile pilot where the partners had chosen to participate and indeed championed and driven the initiative from the outset. On the other hand, there has been significant learning about how best to co-ordinate pre-and post-release activity, use mentors effectively and co-ordinate a multi-agency approach to preventing reoffending.
Will SIBs become a mainstream way of funding public services? My take on new Social Market Foundation report. “Effective transfer of financial accountability is the holy grail of public service reform” The main mechanism for this has been payment by results with which Social Impact Bonds are closely associated. Social Impact Bonds and PbR appear to be a good fit: