Reflections from Social Outcomes Conference 2019
- 1 October 2019
- Posted by: Helen Nicol
- Category: News
GoLab’s CEO Nigel Ball reflects on this year’s Social Outcomes Conference, noting that impact bonds have morphed into something quite different from the original but still have value.
The peculiarities of one particular financial instrument brought many of these discussions into sharp focus. Ten years ago, a new funding model in a forgotten town in the UK midlands gained unprecedented attention and sparked ten years of hype-fuelled efforts to repeat it. The era of the “social impact bond” or “SIB” was upon us. A decade on, many speakers at the conference agreed that the idealised version of this model has not survived its contact with reality.
This has certainly led a few of the most committed sceptics to gleefully chant “we-told-you-all-along”. However, the impact bond model has shown remarkable adaptability, and in the words of one delegate, “morphed” into something quite different from that idealised original. That process itself is instructive. My prediction is that impact bonds are not ready to disappear quite yet – and that is something that everyone – even the sceptics – ought to welcome.
He recommends viewing impact bonds less as a defined model, and more in terms of a set of tools, notes that anticipated benefits are not necessarily those that are realised, and sees the analysis of the utility of impact bonds as a useful learning experience.
But if nothing else, the transformation of impact bonds into multiple different forms that diverge from the idealised original should serve as a warning against pinning our hopes on snake oil. There is no single approach that is going to address the manifest challenges of delivering excellent services to the public and addressing complex social issues. We know that shiny new ideas never survive first contact with reality. But that doesn’t make them useless: it starts a cycle of learning and evolution. There may be no perfect answers – but there is still a lot to try.