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To learn, to serve, to lead: the vision for the GO Lab

GO Lab session

Posted 13 Dec 2017, 9 a.m.

Author Mara Airoldi

I have recently attended a talk by our Dean, Ngaire Woods, who was discussing the ethos of the Blavatnik School of Government. To make it concrete, she summarised it in the motto: to learn, to serve, to lead. It blew me away in its simplicity and power.

In this blog, I take the opportunity of the launch of our new website to share how the GO Lab lives and breathes this motto in its activities, and how the website will help us support those looking to develop outcome based approaches. To put things in context, I would first like to explain the GO Lab vision, which I developed with the GO Lab team, colleagues at the Blavatnik School of Government and our partners in the Centre for Social Impact Bonds at the Office of Civil Society.

Our vision, in a nutshell

We aspire to be the world's leading centre for the thinking and practice of innovative outcome based commissioning. Put simply, we aim to become a trusted, independent base of usable knowledge for public sector commissioners, civil society organisations and the private sector interested in innovative commissioning practices.

The focus of our work is on public services that tackle complex social issues across health, social care, criminal justice, employment, and education. These are the policy areas that have typically attracted the application of outcomes based commissioning and social impact bonds (SIBs) as a policy response worldwide. These policy areas tend to become interlinked around complex social issues, which are compounded by:

  • the challenges of ‘silo’ budgets  
  • short budget cycles and
  • difficulty innovating

Overcoming these challenges will be a fundamental skill for the future of public managers.

As we will shortly publish in our review of existing evaluations, outcomes based commissioning and social impact bonds offer the potential of tackling these challenges by enabling:

  • collaboration,
  • prevention, and
  • a safe space for innovation.

But much of this potential is still unproven or poorly understood. The GO Lab's activities aim to improve our understanding of outcome based commissioning (to learn), to disseminate this learning and support commissioners in using the best available knowledge (to serve) and to create opportunities for change agents to network and accelerate our understanding and the use of effective tools to improve social outcomes (to lead).

To learn

The GO Lab research is about generating, synthesising and communicating knowledge for practitioners and academics. The production of this knowledge base is led by independent staff of the GO Lab, but it is co-designed with the intended users to ensure their burning questions will be addressed.

Our new website features an introduction to the basic concepts of outcomes based commissioning and SIBs, as well as a curated, searchable library of selected publications and a database of existing SIB projects. At the moment the list covers SIB projects in the UK, but we will expand it over time to also include projects developed elsewhere in the world.

To serve

We are supporting commissioners directly through learning opportunities and advice, through connecting people and nurturing peer-to-peer networks. 

The centre-piece of our website is the Commissioners’ Journey, an end-to-end guide to the main stages of developing an outcome based contract or a social impact bond: test feasibility, develop the business case, implementation, contract management, evaluation and learning. Each stage is broken down into steps with a description of activities, key considerations and the aim to be achieved with that step. There are also links to relevant resources. We are well aware that commissioning is not a linear path, but we hope the commissioners’ journey will be a helpful map to help with the navigation.

You can also find practical ‘How to’ guides on specific aspects of outcomes based commissioning, such as feasibility assessment, procurement or setting and measuring outcomes.

If you need support along the journey, you can book time with us for an advice surgery. These are intended as an initial guidance and a sounding board on a wide range of topics. If you need more intense support, we will help you to understand the landscape of available support services. 

To lead

Our view of leadership is to create space and opportunities for local and central government practitioners, as well as for civil society organisations, investors, and public and private agencies wishing to better collaborate in improving the way government commissions public services in order to deliver greater social impact and value. 

On the website you can find out about upcoming events and you will also find helpful information about past events, for which we post a summary report and interviews with speakers. At our recent event on Better Commissioning for Older People’s Services, for instance, we had the pleasure of interviewing professor John Bolton who gave us some food-for-thought on the move to outcomes based commissioning. 

We hope our website will be a helpful digital hub to support better commissioning practices. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have suggestions on how the GO Lab can help you on this exciting journey. 

Mara Airoldi is the Director of the Government Outcomes Lab.

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