26th August 2017

Making a social investment work

Flexibility – the key to social investment success

Social Investment Bonds (SIBs) are currently seen as the key tool for achieving outcomes based commissioning in children’s services. Backed by successive governments since 2008, bonds are here to stay.

My experience as independent chair of three SIB Boards has convinced me that SIBs have the potential to increase impact and achieve savings.

However, three things are essential if SIB investments are to successfully drive improvements in services.

1. Project management must be water-tight

High-calibre managers are needed to implement service changes and secure improved outcomes.

2. The service provider must have a learning culture

For social investment to make a difference, the service provider must be open-minded and willing to display flexibility. This is not a simple revenue replacement mechanism and must not be mistaken for an old-style ‘payment by results’ contract from 2010.

3. The service model must be flexible

Commissioners must design sufficient flexibility into the service model so that it can be adjusted in response to experience on the ground. Desired outcomes cannot be rigid, but rather need to be flexible enough to incorporate practical learning as projects progress.

Gains for service users

Evidence-based practice has led to huge improvements in service design, but that evidence itself needs to constantly evolve as practice progresses or those gains are lost. When flexibility is designed into the project plan to allow for the swift implementation of new learning, there is a far greater potential for achieving the improved outcomes at the heart of social investment.

When these rules are applied, the gains are real and the benefits for service users profound, as can be seen in the achievements of the Fair Chance Fund in tackling homelessness among vulnerable young people in London and the North.