Commissioning Better Outcomes – the first few months

With the first quarter of our Commissioning Better Outcomes support contract drawing to a close, it seems like a good time to reflect on activities so far. To recap,  Big Lottery Fund appointed Social Finance in partnership with the Local Government Association (LGA) to support the development of Social Impact Bond (SIB) proposals in England that could then benefit from the £40million Big Lottery Fund’s Commissioning Better Outcomes Fund or the Cabinet Office’s £20 million Social Outcomes Fund. We plan to do this through a range of activities – workshops, webinars, podcasts, and technical guides.

So, what’s happened so far? It all kicked off with a launch in September, at which the Big Lottery Fund England Chair Nat Sloane gave some context as to why this support was contracted. He stated that we need 30+ SIBs launched for the SIB market to really take off. The market currently stands at 15, so we certainly feel excited about what this contract might help achieve.

The team has quite literally travelled the length of the country, with workshops in London and Newcastle. Both workshops have been oversubscribed, but we’re holding plenty more so check out the events page for one in your region. After all the work planning and developing materials, we were excited about starting to deliver. It wasn’t quite down to earth with a bump, but the first workshops certainly brought home the scale of the challenge ahead. The attendees came with a mixed range of previous knowledge so the workshops had to be sufficiently broad to engage all participants.

After every workshop we’ve reviewed our approach and made changes in light of feedback received. There seems a challenge of “what next” after the initial excitement of the workshop.  We are considering how we can best support commissioners through this stage, which requires a more personalised approach. For commissioners already working on an early stage SIB proposal, an expression of interest (EOI) to the Outcomes Funds is more straightforward. We can put them in touch with one of our team to discuss any queries they may have. For those with very early ideas, we hope they will review the materials publically available on the affiliated websites (a full list is at the bottom of this page.) We recognise that every commissioner will have their own barriers to overcome and can offer support in briefing their colleagues, or just talking through some early stage ideas.

The most popular section of the workshops has consistently been when we’ve reviewed the Essex SIB. This shows us the power of a case study to bring a complicated structure to life.

This video features Roger Bullen from ECC. He played an influential role in the Essex SIB and highlights the importance of an internal SIB “champion” in pushing forward with this complex, but ultimately rewarding new mechanism.

Our partner LGA has been instrumental in reaching out to their networks and introducing the local authority audience to the potential of social investment. You only have to look at where other countries are in terms of their SIB development to see what a vital role Big Lottery funding has played. They have recognised that there is untapped support need among local and central government.  We have also observed a really productive partnership in the way the CBO Fund has been able to complement the existing Cabinet Office Social Outcomes Fund. This has certainly removed the potential for duplication of work, and consequently public funds.

We’ve had to clear up a few more misconceptions around the Funds and our role. For the full scope of our work check out this page, but a key point to note is that no commissioner is required to speak to us in order to submit an EOI or full submission. If you are currently working with another intermediary, or feel confident that you have the internal capacity, then don’t feel you need to speak to us. All the resources we provide are of course at your disposal. There has also been some confusion about the two outcomes funds. For efficiency there is only one entry form, and the Funds will decide who should fund what. The key difference is that the Big Lottery Fund  is looking for projects that enable more people, particularly those most in need, to lead fulfilling lives, in enriching places and as part of successful communities. For the Cabinet Office, they are looking to catalyse and test innovative approaches to tackling complex issues using outcomes based commissioning.

So, looking forward to 2014, we are planning more workshops, more webinars, and hopefully more people getting in touch. It has been particularly inspiring to see that at a time of such upheaval for local government, the people we are speaking to still have the energy and motivation to embrace new ideas and consider a different way of reshaping and financing their public services.

Key Resources

Full guidance, Q&A and Expression of Interest application form – Big Lottery Fund and Cabinet Office. This is recommended as the first port of call for anyone considering submitting an EOI:

Social Finance website:

SIB Knowledge Box – Cabinet Office:

 By Sarah Henderson, Service Manager, Social Finance

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