Newcastle University Business School

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Progressing the debate on Social Impact Bonds: Theoretical and empirical developments in the analysis of Social Impact Bonds

Hosted by Newcastle University Business School; Policy Innovation Research Unit; London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; Government Outcomes Lab; Blavatnik School of Government; University of Oxford and RAND Europe

Date/Time: Monday 11 - Tuesday 12 September 2017

Venue: Newcastle University London, 102 Middlesex Street, London, E1 7EZ

Specifying and steering services on the basis of ‘social outcomes’ is taking on increasing significance around the world as a route to achieve improved public services within available resources. Social impact bonds (SIBs) are one prominent innovation in this field. There are still a relatively small number of SIBs worldwide, but the rate at which new SIB projects are being established is considerable and in the UK and internationally, political capital continues to be poured into the pursuit of SIBs (Edmiston and Nicholls, 2017).

The SIB approach, which establishes a three-way relationship between a public sector commissioner, service provider and independent investor has been pursued in the belief that it can unlock a range of benefits including improved cost effectiveness, innovation, improved social outcomes and future cost savings.

The jury is still out on the effectiveness of SIBs. On the one hand, cautionary narratives (Fraser et al., 2016) have tempered the initial hype and excitement. On the other, preliminary independent evaluations suggest that SIBs are starting to produce some of the expected outcomes (Gustafsson-Wright et al. 2015).

The key question marks can be traced in part to the mechanism’s shape-shifting form and also to the considerable empirical challenges associated with evaluating the application of the approach. These form the two central provocations for the second international SIB conference which builds on the 2016 conference hosted at Newcastle University in London:

What is a SIB exactly’? The initial applications of the SIB approach at Peterborough Prison and Rikers Island introduced specific ideas about what a SIB should look like. These models have since been challenged and debated. How is the mechanism evolving and where is the concept moving to in both thematic and configurational terms? What is the underpinning theory of change of SIBs in their varying forms? How does it compare to other forms of outcome-based commissioning? What impact might broader political shifts mean for SIBs? And how might these developments impact upon theoretical approaches available to academic analyses?

What do we now know about whether SIBs are ‘effective’ in delivering against the ‘expectations’ associated with this approach? Active SIB projects are tied to a raft of evaluation programmes which should be generating a wealth of empirical insights. What can they tell us about SIBs’ ability to deliver against their putative benefits? The vast majority of SIBs employ performance and payment metrics that rely only on the validation of administrative data; what are the challenges to implementing more robust impact evaluations? What other evaluation challenges are emerging? How can the academic community contribute to meeting these challenges?

PIRU, LSHTM, RAND Europe, Newcastle University Business School and GO Lab, University of Oxford will hold an international conference in September 2017 to draw together academic and practitioner voices from various disciplines that can inform and progress the debate around SIBs. The conference will be of interest to academics, researchers, practitioners and policy makers and will include keynote speeches from international experts and innovative interactive group sessions alongside more traditional academic paper presentations.

Call for Papers 

For those wishing to present at the conference, please send a 500 word abstract to sibevent@newcastle.ac.uk by Friday 2 June 2017. Informal enquiries can be directed to Jonathan Kimmitt at Newcastle University or Eleanor Carter at Oxford University 

We recommend that abstracts take the following structure:

  1. Central question and main issue analysed in the paper
  2. Methodology and sources of data/information used for the analysis
  3. Main findings
  4. Research and policy implications

Authors of successful papers will be informed by 30 June 2017.

Conference registration will open after authors are informed of the paper being accepted.

Costs:

£150 (2-day full fee)

£80 (1-day full fee) or

£50 (student fee)

Cost includes: lunch on both days as well as a wine reception & conference meal in London on the evening of Monday 11 September.

Spaces will be limited so we encourage early registration. A preliminary programme will be released in June.