Social impact bond (SIB) research questions

It seems that more and more students around the world are keen to do some research on social impact bonds. Great! But we can do better than ‘Do SIBs work?’ (try defining success first…) or ‘What’s the relationship between financial return and effect size?’ We don’t have the data for questions like this yet, but there are so many other wonderful questions we can be asking. There’s also a lot of data on twitter and in the media that could be used for interesting studies of stakeholder perception and reaction. As Geoff Mulgan of Nesta asserts, ‘The crucial question is not ‘what works’, but rather ‘what works for whom, when, where and with whom’.

If you are a student researching SIBs and would like to be connected with other students, please use the contact form and include your university, level of study and research topic. I will connect you via email with other students around the world. If anyone else has more questions they’d like on this list, please pop them in the comment box.

Some questions

  • What are the effects of publicly announcing a SIB? How does timing affect whether a SIB gets agreed and how long it takes to agree?
  • What are the key characteristics of SIBs that have been announced by haven’t happened? How is this different from those that have happened? What has been the result of these projects e.g. funded by other means, directly commissioned etc.
  • Beyond risk and return: what are investors in social impact bonds looking for and attracted to? On what factors does the success of a SIB fund-raising effort rest? E.g. SVA great brochure, Westpac worked with existing customers, Social Finance builds closer relationships and confidence with investors.
  • Procurement – how do SIBs challenge the assumptions, processes of procurement? Comparison of jurisdictions. Implications for changes in law.
  • What do you procure for i.e. organisation, idea, full blown proposal or service – advantages and disadvantages from cases around the world.
  • Making responses public – e.g. Illinois for their request for information – does this impede or encourage innovation?
  • Appropriation risk (US only?) – how is this quantified, perceived, legislated against and what are the effects of that on a SIB? Conversely, how might the increased profile of a SIB affect appropriation risk?
  • Unstable governments – what are the implications for contractual partnerships in those countries? What’s the financial cost too?
  • Relationship between payment metric, measurement confidence and timing of payments – perhaps already in existing literature on performance-based contracting.
  • The role of guarantees – how does it change perception of what you’re doing by different stakeholders?
  • Who initiates and drives a SIB – how does this shape perceptions of risks and benefits by different stakeholders?

Strongs compressed

Legacy

Alex Nicholls and I published a set of questions in our Case Study: The Peterborough Pilot Social Impact Bond (2013, published by Saïd Business School, University of Oxfordaround the often overlooked issue of legacy: what happens when the SIB is over. Not all of these are research questions, but studies that go some way to addressing these broader questions might be useful. The following is quoted directly from the paper.

One key question of a SIB is when and why should it end? Other key questions to consider are set out below from the perspective of each stakeholder typically involved in a SIB:

Government

  • How to institutionalise innovation into future welfare programmes and in the wider social services market?
  • If early prevention is successful, how to maintain and fund preventative services after SIB ends? Do SIBs need to ‘rollover’ to produce sustainable change?
  • How can SIB outcomes data (likelihood, effect size, cost of delivery, value or savings to tax payer, related externalities/proxy outcomes) drive better commissioning across government?
  • How to achieve key outcomes post SIB?
  • How to continue to grow the social finance market to fund welfare services?
  • How to report on and share SIB learning and data more widely?
  • How to calculate savings from SIB interventions?

Investors

  • How to develop a secondary market exit?
  • How to develop a follow-on SIB investment?
  • How to adjust risk and return dynamically to the availability of new information from SIBs in the market?
  • How to tranche investments in a single SIB according to different risk and return profiles and different personal costs of capital?

Service Providers

  • How to ensure continuity of funding of increased capacity?
  • How to institutionalize SIB performance data?
  • How to build capacity to engage in future SIBs?
  • How to manage on-going collaborative relationships?
  • How to disseminate learning?
  • How to leave a community stronger when a service ends?

Intermediaries

  • How to build a pipeline of SIB deals?
  • How to build capacity in providers so that they are stronger for having worked on a SIB?
  • How to continuously innovate?
  • Where to apply SIBs and develop other models that build upon SIB learning?
  • When are SIBs no longer necessary, if ever?
  • How to build a business model, given high transaction costs?
  • How better to segment the investor market to the real, rather than perceived, risk and return opportunities of SIBs?
  • How to manage the involvement of commercial, rather than purely social, investors in terms of expectations of high returns and the potential for risk dumping?

Service Users

  • How to ensure that a service gap does not arise for current participants and relevant future populations/cohorts?
  • How to avoid worse outcomes in the long term?
  • Will improved outcomes be sustained for those who participated in a SIB?

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