Frequently Asked Questions

FAQs about the GO Lab and Outcomes-Based Commissioning

What is the Government Outcomes Lab?

The Government Outcomes Lab (GO Lab) is a new centre of academic excellence for innovative government commissioning. Through rigorous academic research, the GO Lab will deepen the understanding of outcomes-based commissioning and provide independent support, data and evidence on what works, and what doesn’t. The GO Lab is funded as part of a five-year partnership between the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford University and HM Government.


Why has the Government Outcomes Lab been set up?

Outcomes-based commissioning has emerged as an innovative way for governments around the world to achieve better social outcomes through collaboration with the private and not-for-profit sectors. While numbers of, and funding for, outcomes-based approaches have increased over recent years, research has not kept pace with this speed of growth. Much is still unknown about whether outcomes-based commissioning will meet its promise. The GO Lab will harness expertise from across Oxford University, to deepen the understanding and existing research on outcomes-based commissioning. It will also build on the evidence base and evaluate the effectiveness of this model versus alternatives, and to support local governments who are thinking of using an outcomes-based approach.


Is the Government Outcomes Lab an independent organisation?

The GO Lab is funded through a partnership between the Blavatnik School of Government and HM Government. It is part of the Blavatnik School of Government and is located at the School in Oxford. It will undertake independent applied research into innovative government commissioning that meets the University of Oxford’s highest standards of research integrity. The GO Lab will harness expertise from across the University and work with HM Government to increase the impact of the partnership.


What team within HM Government is supporting this partnership?

The Centre for Social Impact Bonds is a multi-disciplinary team and part of the Government Inclusive Economy Unit at the Department of Culture, Media and Sports. The team provides expert guidance on developing SIBs, shares information on outcomes-based commissioning and supports the growth of the social investment sector.


What is commissioning?

Commissioning is the process of planning, agreeing and monitoring public services. Over the past decade, the role of commissioning as a driver of quality, efficiency and outcomes for people has become increasingly important in local government organisations in the UK.


What is outcomes-based commissioning?

Outcomes-based commissioning – or payment by results – is a way of paying for services based on delivery of results for beneficiaries – such as improvements in health or better job readiness. With this model, also known as ‘pay for success’, service providers only get paid in full if they deliver the desired social outcomes.


What are some examples of outcomes-based contracts?

Outcomes-based contracts are in operation in a number of different policy areas, across both local and central governments. Examples of outcomes-based contracts in the UK include:

  • Career Connect, a charity providing career-focused guidance, advice and support across Greater Merseyside. Their service was commissioned as an outcomes contract by the Department of Work and Pensions in 2012 and again in 2015. The charity has financed ones of its programmes via a social impact bond, which has supported 3,928 young people.
  • Ways to Wellnessa new service for people in the west of Newcastle whose lives are affected by certain long-term health conditions. The service is supported by an outcomes-based contract with the Newcastle Gateshead Clinical Commissioning Group, calculated on the basis of long-term savings through reduced use of hospital services. Ways to Wellness is funded through a social impact bond and aims to support 11,000 people over seven years.


How do social impact bonds fit into outcomes-based commissioning? What will the Government Outcomes Lab be focusing on?

Social impact bonds are a subset of outcomes-based commissioning that involve external investors. All social impact bonds involve an outcomes-based contract between the commissioner and delivery agency, and possibly further outcomes-based contracts between other parties. Research from the GO Lab will focus broadly on outcomes-based contracts and innovative public sector commissioning, including (but not limited to) social impact bonds.


What organisations will the Government Outcomes Lab be engaging with?

The objective of the GO Lab is to develop world-leading research to deepen the understanding of outcomes-based commissioning, including its effectiveness. To achieve this, the GO Lab will engage with a wide range of stakeholders and partners from across the public, not-for-profit and private sectors.