We are the UK Government’s evaluation partner for the Life Chances Fund (LCF). Through our engaged research, we are conducting multiple, longitudinal evaluations across the portfolio of 30 projects offered funding by the LCF.
The Life Chances Fund (LCF) was launched as an £80 million fund from the UK Government’s Civil Society directorate, designed to help people in society who face the most significant barriers to leading happy and productive lives. The Fund is dedicated to supporting the growth and development of outcomes-based commissioning through the use of social impact bonds (SIBs), by providing a top-up payment to local government commissioners in England.By increasing the number and scale of SIBs in England, LCF aspires to make it easier and quicker to set up future SIBs, and to build evidence on what works. Following three application rounds, funding was made available for multi-year SIB projects as the LCF runs for nine years from July 2016 to March 2025.
LCF projects are aimed at tackling complex social problems across policy areas like child and family welfare, homelessness, health and wellbeing, employment and training, criminal justice, and education and early years. They involve an investment commitment of more than £30 million and aim to reach more than 53,000 service users across England. The first LCF projects began service delivery in 2018, with the bulk of projects launching between 2019 and 2020. All funded projects are now in implementation, and many are halfway through their delivery timeline. Most projects are expected to complete provision under the LCF by 2025 – 2026, with the potential for re-commissioning through other funding sources. You can access more information (including visualisations) on individual Life Chances Fund projects through our INDIGO Impact Bond Database, which describes the projects’ locations, policy sectors, timelines, and stakeholder networks here.
The Government Outcomes Lab is conducting multiple evaluations across the portfolio of 30 projects offered funding by the LCF. Undertaking research work in partnership with projects offers a great opportunity for improving our collective understanding of the SIB model as a commissioning tool.
A key contribution of the LCF evaluation is to clarify whether, where, and how SIBs add value when compared to more conventional public service provision. Although a series of SIB evaluations have been carried out previously, most of these evaluations have focussed on the implementation or efficacy of specific interventions (i.e. the particular service funded by the SIB), often without robust quantitative impact evaluation. As part of a unique partnership between DCMS and GO Lab, the LCF is an opportunity to undertake collaborative, robust evaluation to help improve future policy and practice.
The Government Outcomes Lab is responsible for the project-level strand of the LCF evaluation, which evaluates the impact, process and value for money of LCF SIBs and compares the SIB model to alternative commissioning approaches. Our research aims to respond to current gaps in research by focusing specifically on SIBs as a tool for public service delivery and reform rather than centring only on the intervention effect. The ambition is to assess ‘the SIB effect’ – that is the influence of this commissioning model on social outcomes. In pursuing this research, the GO Lab and Centre for SIBs hope to offer crucial thought leadership in the outcomes-based-commissioning landscape.
We currently have multiple, longitudinal evaluation studies in progress which focus on different aspects of the LCF. Our primary evaluation looks across the whole portfolio of the 30 LCF funded projects to explore project characteristics and projects’ performance against specified social outcomes. Meanwhile the supplementary evaluation takes a more in-depth look at project sites that provide an opportunity to compare services delivered under the SIB to similar projects commissioned in other ways.
We hope that our innovative evaluation of the LCF will break new ground in policy evaluation to show how a "way of working" can meaningfully affect social outcomes. In parallel, we continue to collaborate with LCF projects and partner organisations to develop practical knowledge resources such as technical guides and case studies.
The primary evaluation covers all projects which successfully received funding from the Life Chances Fund. This is a project-level evaluation, which studies project characteristics, the LCF application process, and project performance across the portfolio. It utilises information collected as part of the Fund administration process, complemented by a longitudinal survey conducted during set up, delivery, and at the end of the project.
Following the onset of Covid-19 restrictions in March 2020, the primary evaluation also captured the impact of the pandemic on LCF projects, including adaptations made to service delivery and funding decisions. This was the focus of the first interim report (published by DCMS on gov.uk in February 2022) which also led to an academic paper on organisational resilience during Covid-19. The paper, published in Public Management Review, was presented by GO Lab Research Fellow Dr Ruth Dixon at the International Research Society for Public Management annual conference.
The supplementary evaluation takes a more in-depth look at particular project sites that provide an opportunity to compare services delivered under the SIB to similar projects commissioned in other ways.
The Kirklees Better Outcomes Partnership (KBOP) SIB seeks to improve a range of outcomes for vulnerable adults in need of support to live independently. The project offers an exciting evaluation opportunity as it was preceded by similar provision of ‘floating support’ under fee-for-service contracting arrangements. The first report from the Kirklees supplementary evaluation, focusing on the legacy fee-for-service contracting arrangements and the potential of the SIB model, was published in July 2021. The current phase of research seeks to investigate KBOP’s switch to the SIB model, with the next evaluation report expected in Summer 2022.
Between 2019 and 2020, the team undertook cross-sectional research to explore the business cases lying behind seven Life Chances Fund projects related to the state care of vulnerable children. The research worked closely with local government stakeholders to investigate justifications for using an impact bond model when supporting children in or on the ‘edge’ of care. Theories of change were built for each of the projects alongside procurement and economic analyses. The study also explored facilitators and challenges within the development processes, as well as design considerations and standardisation across the seven projects. The LCF Children’s Social Care report was published in July 2021 and the findings will feed into the UK government’s recently launched Care Review.
The five Mental Health and Employment Partnership (MHEP) SIBs commissioned through the LCF form the most recent supplementary evaluation project. The evaluation aims to answer whether and how MHEP Social Impact Bonds – specifically the outcomes contracts and/or performance management function – make a difference to the social outcomes achieved, compared to alternative commissioning approaches. It also allows investigation of the mechanism by which a SIB model (e.g., adaptive performance management) influences outcomes alongside established, evidence-based interventions (e.g., the Individual Placement Support intervention). This research project is a collaboration involving the Government Outcomes Lab, Prof Adam Whitworth (an IPS specialist at the University of Strathclyde) and Social Finance UK. The first of three evaluation reports is expected in Summer 2022.
At the Government Outcomes Lab, we host a global impact bond dataset, where users can explore data on impact bonds projects in their various stages of development and policy areas around the world. This is part of the International Network for Data and Government Outcomes (INDIGO), an emerging data collaborative. We hope this initiative will help consolidate global knowledge on outcomes-based approaches. You can access additional visualisations for the Life Chances Fund which describe the projects’ locations, policy sectors, timelines, and organisational networks here.
LCF evaluation reports
C. FitzGerald, T. Hameed , F.Rosenbach, J.R. Macdonald, J. Outes Velarde. & R. Dixon (2021) An introduction to Life Chances Fund projects and their early adaptations to Covid-19, (Government Outcomes Lab, University of Oxford)
F. Rosenbach, F. and E. Carter (2021) Kirklees Integrated Support Service and Better Outcomes Partnership: The first report from a longitudinal evaluation of a Life Chances Fund impact bond, (Government Outcomes Lab, University of Oxford)
T. Hameed, E. Carter, J. R. Macdonald, M. Shiva, C. Baker (2021) The use of social impact bonds in children’s social care: A comparative analysis of project justifications and design considerations in the Life Chances Fund, (Government Outcomes Lab, University of Oxford)
C. FitzGerald, T. Hameed, F. Rosenbach, J. R Macdonald, R. Dixon (2021) Resilience in public service partnerships: evidence from the Life Chances Fund (Government Outcomes Lab, University of Oxford)
R. Dixon (2020) Performance management in social impact bonds: how an outcomes-based approach shapes hybrid partnerships, (Government Outcomes Lab, University of Oxford)
C. FitzGerald, E. Carter, R. Dixon, M. Airoldi (2019) Walking the contractual tightrope: a transaction cost economic perspective on social impact bonds, (Government Outcomes Lab, University of Oxford)
Other related publications
R. Dixon, T. Hameed, F. Rosenbach and J. R. Macdonald. (2022) Resilience in public sector partnerships: how a group of social impact bond projects responded to the Covid crisis (Apolitical)
J. Outes Velarde, M. Airoldi, E. Carter, M. Gibson, T. Hameed, & J.R. Macdonald (2021) INDIGO Impact Bond Insights July 2021, (Government Outcomes Lab, University of Oxford) - Section on LCF page 19
Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport and Office for Civil Society (2021) Process Evaluation for the Life Chances Fund
ICF Consulting (2020) Evaluation of the Life Chances Fund Interim report
E. Carter, C. FitzGerald, R. Dixon, C. Economy, T. Hameed, and M. Airoldi. (2018) Building the tools for public services to secure better outcomes: Collaboration, Prevention, Innovation. (Government Outcomes Lab, University of Oxford)
N. Ball, E. Carter, (2021) Spotlighting Shared Outcomes for Social Impact Programs That Work, (Stanford Social Innovation Review)
You can also find a session at last year's Social Outcomes Conference on seven LCF projects focussing on children's services, along with a number of other impact bonds working in children's social care around Europe.