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September 2016

Widening Perspectives on Social Impact Bonds

On the 12th and 13th September, at our London campus, Newcastle University held the first academic conference on the subject of Social Impact Bonds (SIBs). It was a jointly organised event between the Centre of Knowledge Innovation Technology and Enterprise (KITE), Newcastle University, Policy Innovation Research Institute at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and RAND.

As an approach that brings together private social investors into the sphere of public service delivery, SIBs have received a lot of attention in recent years as an innovative financing mechanism. However, the research in the area is in its early stages with a growing number of academics interested in the SIB phenomena. Over 2 days, we welcomed contributions from a number of diverse academic backgrounds as well as from those involved in establishing and enacting SIBs from across Europe and North America. The conference focused on the key themes of SIB development and design, social investment, understanding social outcomes, the politics of SIBs and trying to establish what “the SIB effect” is.

We also welcomed keynote contributions from Professor Mildred Warner, Cornell University, who offered a US perspective on the emergence of SIBs as well as some of the parallels with other research into contracting challenges. Concluding the first day was Professor Alex Nicholls’ keynote, who outlined some of the myths and realities of SIBS and synthesising the evidence for these. The conference concluded with a panel discussion including Ben Jupp from Social Finance, Alina Sellman from the Centre for Social Impact Bonds, Professor Midlred Warner and Professor Rob Wilson.

In short, the two days provoked discussion into some of the fundamental challenges that face SIBs, producing a collective sense of when, where and how SIBs may be part of public service delivery. As SIBs will undoubtedly grow in their prominence, this conference highlights the emergence of a body of academic work on SIBs that is trying to answer these critical questions. We’d like to thank the participants for their contributions and welcome them to continue the discussion again next year. If you are interested in this work, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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