The Life Chances Fund (LCF) is an £80million fund from Central Government to support local councils and other commissioners to develop Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) to tackle complex social problems. Between 2017 and 2019, Traverse was appointed as the expert organisation providing independent commissioner support and engagement to projects engaging with the LCF.
The Life Chances Fund (LCF) is an £80million fund from Central Government to support local councils and other commissioners to develop Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) to tackle complex social problems. It is structured around six key themes: drug and alcohol dependency, children’s services, early years, young people, older people’s services, and healthy lives.
A SIB is one type of outcomes-based contract where social investor(s), seeking social as well as financial returns, provide(s) the up-front funding required to deliver the service. The outcomes-based contract involves outcome payer(s) (normally public sector commissioning body or bodies), an intervention provider(s) (usually one or more charities or social enterprises) and one or more social investors. SIBs are a UK public policy innovation, emerging in 2010, that has since been replicated globally. Under a SIB model, incentives are aligned such that everyone ‘pulls in the same direction’ of achieving positive social outcomes. Public sector bodies only pay if success is achieved, and hence avoid the risk of ‘paying for failure’ particularly at a time when budgets are slashed.
Between 2017 and 2019, Traverse was appointed as the expert organisation providing independent commissioner support and engagement to projects engaging with the LCF. This built on our reputation as authoritative and independent experts with in-depth experience of providing commissioning support to a wide range of commissioners (e.g. local authorities, Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG), etc); service design and impact measurement support to diverse service providers; and independent advice to social investors. It also built on the recognition of our international reputation for expertise in SIB development, implementation and evaluation.
Our role has been multi-dimensional and evolving as the LCF programme developed. During the development phase, we supported projects that were awarded a Development Grant to conduct feasibility studies and/or technical modelling of their potential SIB proposition. We scrutinised the robustness of the financial modelling and the projections around levels of outcome, while also stress-testing assumptions around the delivery models (e.g. cohort identification, referral, delivery, etc). Most importantly, we supported stakeholders to mobilise wider teams and partners within and beyond commissioning bodies to ensure that there is a collective vision and consensus around the best ways of tackling complex social problems.
We also provided additional mentoring and coaching support to LCF Funding Officers, and contributed towards the generation of a SIB Readiness Framework: a step-by-step practical guide helping interested parties design and implement a SIB.
In the current phase, we are supporting all the projects in the LCF pipeline that have secured ‘in principle’ awards, with the focus shifting towards maximising the probability of ‘live’ SIBs being launched. The nature of support has expanded to include market engagement advice, procurement and contracting support, social investor engagement support, as well as advice around appropriate management and governance structures.
We have been working very closely with key colleagues from the DCMS, the Government Outcomes Lab (GOLab), the Big Lottery Fund (BLF) and key social investors.
SIBs require cross-sector partnerships and collaboration. We have had demonstrable impact as ‘bridge-builders’, drawing on our in-depth understanding of the various ‘worlds’ involved in SIB design and implementation (e.g. commissioners, service providers and social investors):
“We are very impressed by your ability to maintain independence and credibility across the different areas…You are obviously trusted by different commissioners and make them ‘feel safe’…You speak the language of commissioners, providers and investors…[and] are able to bring them together to work collaboratively.” (Andrew Park, Life Chances Fund, DCMS)
This has enabled us to break down structural and cultural barriers that often inhibit collaboration across the public, private and voluntary and community sectors; leading to a clearer focus on innovative ways of achieving better outcomes for some of the most vulnerable groups in society.
We take particular pride in the fact that we maintain a clear eye on the ‘real prize’ presented by the opportunity afforded through the LCF programme. Our starting point is not about helping others ‘do a SIB’. Instead, it is about helping the key partners work together differently to tackle entrenched social problems, and finding the best vehicle through which to tackle these problems in different localities (which may not always be a SIB):
“Unfortunately, we have been informed that our bid was not successful. However, your support has helped to improve not only Medway’s understanding of SIBs but also the wider context of outcomes, influencing contractors’ behaviour etc. We are progressing, through alternative paths, to embed Positive Behaviour Support.” (Marilyn Morgan, Senior Partnership Commissioner, Medway Council and Medway CCG)
We take further pride in challenging stakeholders to clarify what ‘social outcomes’ look like, particularly encouraging them to listen to the voices of beneficiaries to help identify “what success looks like” from their perspectives.