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Social Outcomes Conference 2021

Headline speakers

All speakers

Welcome to the Social Outcomes Conference 2021

SOC21 aims to bring together the rigour of the most recent, cutting-edge academic research with an applied, real-world focus. It will be an opportunity for participants to engage in vibrant exchanges between both policymakers, practitioners and academics from around the world, each with their own experience and insights on improving social outcomes. 

This year's conference is built around five key themes:

  • Outcomes-based contracting
  • Outcomes orientation
  • Measuring outcomes and value for money
  • Procurement and social value
  • Government, business and civil society collaboration in places

These themes are all underpinned by a single core question: how can government combine its multiple roles – sometimes as provider, funder, facilitator, and regulator – to support activity which improves social outcomes?  

What to expect 

We've got a packed programme of highly interactive sessions in a variety formats, including thought-provoking roundtables, deep dives and big picture sessions where leading experts will tackle some of the most pertinent issues in the sector. Explore our programme to find out more.

Due to COVID-19 meeting and travelling restrictions, the conference will take place online. However, we expect to be able to offer a small number of in-person places to those wishing to attend the conference at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford. All the latest information on visiting in-person can be found here.

In-person tickets now available

In-person tickets are now available on a first-come-first-serve basis. This will be subject to UK COVID-19 restrictions and are refundable. More information about visiting Oxford here. If you have any questions, please get in touch at golab@bsg.ox.ac.uk.

This year's keynote speaker: Professor Joseph Stiglitz

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We are delighted that Professor Joseph Stiglitz will be delivering the Social Outcomes Conference 2021 keynote speech on Thursday 9 September 1pm BST. 

Former senior vice president and chief economist of the World Bank and Nobel Prize laureate, Professor Stiglitz is a distinguished economist on the world stage. He has made major contributions to the fields of macroeconomics and monetary theory, to development economics and trade theory, and to the theories of welfare economics and wealth distribution. Find out more about Joseph Stiglitz here.

In this keynote address, Professor Stiglitz will present a bold agenda to assess societal well-being and outline how a dashboard of indicators can reveal who is benefitting from growth, whether that growth is environmentally sustainable, how people feel about their lives, what factors contribute to an individual’s or a country’s success. Explore our programme to find out more.

Interested in attending the keynote speech? 

Register for SOC21 today and join us Thursday 9 September 1pm BST.

Pre-conference sessions

This year, on the side of the main conference, we are hosting in partnership with other organisations two special sessions that spotlight particular regions: India and Latin America respectively. The regional spotlight sessions will feature in-depth discussions of the state of play, evidence and lessons learnt regarding the development of outcomes-based approaches in the respective regions, and will bring together senior policymakers, experienced practitioners, representatives from the civil society and academia. These sessions will take place on Wednesday 08th September 2021 and will be online only. 

You can sign up to the first session on evidence and insights from India's experience with paying for outcomes here. We will provide more information on the Latin America session in the coming weeks.

Register for SOC21 to keep updated on conference news and updates. 

Conference structure

The conference will feature a mix of different types of sessions, alongside opportunities for informal discussions and both virtual and in-person networking. Relevant session resources such as research papers, abstracts and presentation slides will be shared in the programme in advance of the conference. 

  • Big picture sessions will explore broad, cross-cutting topics. For example, how government are using public procurement systems to promote social objectives.
  • Roundtable sessions will provide an open space for participants to engage in discussion, share knowledge and learn from others' experiences. For example, learning from international perspectives on outcomes-based partnerships. 
  • Deep dive sessions will put specific areas of research and practice into focus. For example, looking at using social impact bonds to commission preventative services tackling children's welfare. 

Outcomes-based contracting

Contracting for outcomes has a long history and is increasingly featured as part of a wide literature covering government outsourcing and payment by results. Social impact bonds – which are increasingly known as social outcomes contracts – continue to be launched all over the world and attract a broad network of practitioners. 

But, these partnerships between governments, charities and social investors can take widely varying forms. Why is this? How do the efforts in different policy domains and geographies compare with one another? What lessons can be learned from efforts to date that might inform government contracting practice more broadly? Might the disruption of COVID-19 lead practitioners and policymakers towards or away from these practices?

Outcomes orientation

While an outcomes logic is perhaps most explicit in outcome-based contracting, there exist a host of other managerial models and learning routines that seek to focus the attention of those delivering goods and services - be they government employees, private contractors, or issue- or policy-based multi-organisational partnerships - on continual improvement with the ultimate goal of improving the societal outcomes governments prioritize for the people they serve. Examples include (but are certainly not limited to) performance management, performance-based budgeting, venture philanthropy, learning forums, rapid cycle testing, and collaborative performance regimes. 

But, how well do these models work, especially in comparison to one another? Are there emerging practices worth exploring? And, how informed are these approaches by the experience of service users and citizens?

Measuring outcomes and value for money

The desire to quantify and measure social impact only grows larger. Efforts are being pushed along by the impact investing and purpose-led business movements that are growing worldwide. Whilst useful at a macro level, there is evidence these efforts can overreach and limit the scope for collaboration and continuous improvement at the delivery level. 

Can standardisation and harmonisation of measures better enable like-for-like comparison of alternative strategies to enhance decision making? What tools and data are needed to support more comprehensive approaches to value-for-money assessments in contracting decisions? Can different motives for measuring outcomes be reconciled across diverse sectors, policy domains and levels of decision-making, and should they be? Does measurement weaken the voices of citizens and service users?

Procurement and social value

Public procurement accounts for 12% of GDP in OECD countries. In the UK, procurement accounts for £100bn (47%) of local authority spending. Leveraging these resources to the greatest social and economic effect is crucial for the well-being of suppliers and communities and in ensuring a robust recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. 

What are the regulatory and policy frameworks which can support sound procurement decision making? What does a culture of good market development, thoughtful contract award, and effective contract management look like, and how can it be promoted? In what ways is social value considered and monitored in procurement processes, including during contract delivery? What has procuring during COVID-19 taught us?

Government, business and civil society collaboration in places

All over the world, there is a ‘geography of discontent’, with local and regional patterns of economic and social deprivation contributing to division and discord. In the UK, regional disparities are greater than in any other major developed economy. Yet governments all over the world have promised to ‘build back better’ after COVID-19.

How might public, private and civil society bodies in towns, cities and regions work together to achieve this? Actors in these sectors hold mutual responsibilities towards each other and a collective responsibility towards citizens. This gives them a shared purpose, which can be made explicit and used to help the organisations with a stake in the success of a place to organise their efforts relative to one another. 

Such local purpose-oriented networks hold promise in incorporating a broader set of voices into decisions about a place, co-ordinating the efforts of a diverse set of organisations, and informing ongoing adaptation in the light of evolving circumstances. How might a network of actors in a place co-ordinate their activity around a common purpose?

Notwithstanding travelling and social distancing restrictions, we are determined to make this conference as interactive as possible.

Whether you attend the conference in-person or online, you will have the chance to attend multiple networking sessions each day that will allow you to meet and exchange ideas with others who are working in the sector. During each session there will be many opportunities to get involved, whether this is by sharing your own insights, asking questions, taking part in live polls, or joining break-out discussion groups. There will be plenty of opportunities for you to meet people from across the sector and see familiar faces too.

We will be hosting the conference on Zoom.

In order to keep this online conference secure, you will be required to type in a code to access the Zoom links and passwords on the day. We will share the Zoom links with you closer to the date of the conference. You can view the programme in your own time zone, so there will be no confusion over the times of each of the sessions. In the lead-up to the conference in September, we will share more practical information here. To make sure you receive all the latest updates, including the Zoom links, register here.

We expect to be able to offer a small number of in-person places to those wishing to attend the conference in Oxford. You will have the chance to attend conference sessions live, at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford and take part in any informal and formal networking events during the time of the conference. Book your in-person tickets now. If you have any questions, please get in touch.

Transport to Oxford

We are based at the Blavatnik School of Government in Oxford,University of Oxford, Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, Woodstock Road, Oxford OX2 6GG, United Kingdom.

If arriving on foot the building can be accessed via Walton Street. 

The University of Oxford website has interactive maps of the University buildings.

Oxford is approximately 60 miles (90 kms) northwest of London and has excellent road and national rail links. There are regular coach services to the London airports, and direct train services to major UK cities including London and Birmingham.

Many Oxford streets in central Oxford are closed to traffic and parking is limited. If considering arriving by car, visitors are encouraged to use the Park and Ride bus services which operate between the city centre and parking areas on the outskirts of the city.

For more detailed information, please see the University of Oxford website page on how to get to the University.