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This is our monthly policy briefing for April 2021. Each week we gather all the news, commentary and events from across the sector, then tie it all together each month. If you would like to get this in your inbox each week you can sign up to Tiny Letter

Policy lessons from the pandemic

While the challenges of the pandemic are by no means over, the vaccine rollout is having a promising impact. As policymakers begin to look beyond the immediate health crisis, their attentions are turning to socioeconomic recovery, and how the lessons learned over the last year might inform future action. To that end, the Global Partnership for Results-Based Approaches produced a report exploring whether and how outcomes-based financing (OBF) might contribute to recovery efforts around the world. It highlights the range of sectors in which OBF may be most effective and offers suggestions for adapting the approach to better support rebuilding and long-term resilience.  

Sourcing services, in order to both ensure continuity of existing support and meet new requirements, has been an ongoing challenge for governments throughout the course of the pandemic. Writing for the Economics Observatory, Mehdi Shiva highlights the complexity of government decisions to deliver a public service in-house or contract it out. Through two very public examples from the UK during the last year, he stresses the importance of considering each outsourcing decision on its own merits, and making use of the full range of service sourcing options.  

The lessons of the pandemic also extend beyond contracting for public services. Against a backdrop of growing anti-science rhetoric, and both successes and challenges for evidence-based policymaking throughout the response to the pandemic, Andreea Anastasiu considers what it will take to make evidence great (again), sharing three ingredients that can support more effective use of evidence in policy and practice. One of these, embracing a broader understanding of evidence beyond RCTs, might include more attentive listening to service users and citizens more broadly. But, as this article from Apolitical argues, government will have to pivot their approach to citizen engagement in order to effectively gather meaningful feedback and rebuild trust. Covid-19 has exacerbated existing challenges, and created new ones, but it has also provided a range of opportunities for governments to reconsider how they approach their central challenges. 

Rebuilding beyond government

While there are a range of lessons for the public sector to take forward form the pandemic, efforts to ‘build back better’ will require cross-sector efforts. Traditionally, the third sector has played a key role in addressing social challenges, and this article in SSIR calls for a much broader view on its future role. It highlights three emerging perspectives on the social economy: as part of an ecosystem to be viewed through systems thinking, as an agent of change to affect both the public and private sectors, and as a partner of policy makers and the for-profit sector through joint initiatives and tools like social impact bonds to improve outcomes. 

While the third sector’s role in meeting social challenges is well-established, there have been growing calls for the private sector to play its part too. Responding to demands for more responsible business practices, Ian Taylor has written an introduction to responsible business. The report outlines what responsible business actually is and its history, before investigating the potential for a new epoch of social responsibility in the private sector.  

However, challenges remain. In a separate blog, Ian and Nigel Ball examine a recent setback in the commitment of businesses to generating broader social value - the sacking of Danone CEO Emmanuel Faber, who had pioneered a 'stakeholder capitalism' approach within the company. The authors suggest it exemplifies the need for government to take a role in harnessing the social value of the private sector, again pointing to the need for collaboration between sectors to address both new and enduring social challenges. 

And in other news...

One of those more enduring challenges is the stark regional inequalities between London and the South East, and the rest of the United Kingdom. The current government have made supporting ‘left behind’ places a key priority, but this blog from Pro Bono Economics argues that the current ‘levelling up’ agenda focuses too much on physical infrastructure. Instead, they point to the more holistic differences that people care about, and call for wellbeing to become a central objective and metric for levelling up, as well as greater engagement with civil society organisations in ‘left behind’ places. 

In the world of outcomes-based contracting, Sam Magne’s blog on the latest Commissioning Better Outcomes report considers the lynch pin-role that social workers find themselves in as part of an ambitious plan to make specialist family services available, pan-London wide, to children on the edge of care. And in the US, this New York Times article highlights Social Finance US's Career Impact Bond (CIB) programme, which uses private investment to cover the upfront cost of technical training courses, which participants only repay upon sustained employment. 

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