chevron icon Twitter logo Facebook logo LinkedIn logo YouTube logo download icon link icon audio icon quote icon posted icon clock icon author icon arrow icon arrow icon plus icon Search icon location icon location icon document icon menu icon plus-alt

Date: Thursday 14 and Friday 15 September 2023

Location: Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford, and online (hybrid conference)

Hosted by: Government Outcomes Lab (GO Lab)

Deadline for call for contributions: 28 March 2023

The Social Outcomes Conference is the annual convening of the world's leading researchers, policymakers and practitioners working to improve social outcomes. As in previous years, the conference will feature discussions on the latest thinking and findings from academic research alongside insights from the emerging practice across different geographies, disciplines and policy areas.

This year, the Social Outcomes Conference 2023 (SOC23) will take place 14-15 September 2023. We will host SOC23 as a ‘hybrid’ online/in-person conference. This would involve offering in-person places for those who wish to attend the conference at the Blavatnik School of Government in Oxford and facilitating virtual participation for our global community through Zoom.

Call for contributions, papers, & presentations

Our annual conference returns, with the continued aim of bringing together the rigour of cutting-edge academic research with an applied, real-world focus.

In this page, you will find SOC23's key questions and themes as well as more information on how to submit your proposal. If you wish to make a submission, please read the themes and questions carefully and make sure your submission addresses at least one of them.

UPDATE: The deadline for submissions was 28 March 2023 12pm UK time. Over the coming weeks we will review all submissions, and announce the full conference programme in June.

We value diversity and inclusion and are committed to creating a conference where the rich intersection of different voices and backgrounds are prioritised. We encourage applications from individuals and organisations representing a range of backgrounds spanning ethnic, cultural, geographical, and income differences.

The SOC23 Vision:

Around the world, societies are facing a multidimensional crisis: the aftermath of a global pandemic; continued racial, gender, and social inequalities; increasing wealth gaps; global warming; and the refugee crisis. Cross-sector collaboration is vital for responding to this crisis. At SOC23 we will address these cross-cutting issues as we draw together changemakers, practitioners, and thought-leaders. Join us as we gather around the pursuit of better social outcomes for a better world.

At the conference, we will discuss how new forms of partnership and collaboration can help sectors work together to tackle grand challenges. Why are relationships and trust important? Who has power and who needs it? What innovative new models of partnership are available, and do they support the broader systems change we need? How do we agree what better outcomes look like?

Our ambition is for a vibrant exchange between researchers and practitioners to enhance both research and implementation. Central to this ambition is our commitment to enabling and inspiring more ‘engaged research’ across the field. If you would like to know more about the Social Outcomes Conference, take a look at last year’s summary here.

Each year we seek to build on what has been discussed at the previous year’s conference, driving forward the conversation on the use of outcomes and engaging with the latest work.

SOC23's key question

Working together better: how can cross-sector partnerships help to address the multi-dimensional crisis facing societies world-wide?

To explore this question, we recommend that submissions clearly demonstrate how they speak to one or more of the following conference themes:

Conference themes

The themes and the questions are intended to inspire, not limit, contributions and submissions. Your work may relate to several themes.

The importance of relationships and trust in cross-sector partnerships took centre stage in many conversations at SOC22. The topic has wide implications for practice, research, implementation, details of contracting, and more. Acknowledgement of the significance of trust and relationships is often overlooked. And even when acknowledged, anything short of best practice can too often risk devastating consequences for outcomes, contracts, partnerships and more. We are keen for papers and contributions around questions such as:

  • What are the costs associated with more relational ways of working and are there benefits/costs avoided through this approach?
  • What is an audit and scrutiny perspective on relational-contracting? Is it possible to introduce more relational approaches without undermining public scrutiny?
  • How can the multiple purposes of impact / outcome measurement be blended, to support relational practice and user responsiveness but also accountability, comparability and evaluation?
  • What is (and what isn't) a relational contract? Can we move from "what's a relational contract?" to "what's a good relational contract?"
  • Can trust among contract parties scale from the small pilot to the multi-million dollar?
  • Does relational contracting achieve better outcomes?

In this theme we wish to create a space to hear from alternative voices and perspectives – that may disrupt assumptions and bring fresh views. As diversity and inclusion continue to be crucial areas for improvement, how do we bring these into the space of outcomes contracting? At last year’s conference questions arose around: the need for more user voice; the importance of recognising different global contexts (such as in lower income countries); and the challenges of navigating the local voice vs the national voice. Hearing fresh voices is key for driving forward best theory and practice. This theme aims to ‘disrupt’ a hegemonic view, instead continuing to seek insights from a wider range of voices. We would like to hear from different practice backgrounds, distinct leadership voices , and  different national, regional, social, academic, and professional contexts.

  • How can outcomes be defined in 'localised' and 'bottom-up' ways? How can mechanisms such as citizens assemblies and participatory budgeting be reconciled with existing government institutions?
  • What are the differences we need to consider for developed and developing countries' experiences of outcome-based partnerships?
  • How might we build and sustain transformative leadership capacity at different levels in cross-sector collaborations?
  • What is the importance of political leadership and institutional entrepreneurship in driving forward innovative forms of partnership?
  • What can we learn from collaboration and coordination between different levels of government? How do we balance the tension between the need to tailor to a local context and a minimum standard of delivery?

Following last year’s keynote talk, by Julie Battilana, on power, we saw subsequent sessions energised by this theme. It showed just how salient ‘power’ is as an area of focus across the academic and practice worlds with regards to outcomes.  Ethical issues and power dynamics are perennial issues in society, and underlie all efforts to improve social outcomes. So, how do we relate outcomes-based partnerships to issues of power? This theme is ideal for all who are thinking about contracting for a ‘better’ world. This is also the space for those thinking about specific social issues such as inequalities, the environment, and health disparities, or for those thinking about the implications of power or ethics in their outcomes work.

  • How do we integrate social and environmental outcomes in the same initiatives?
  • How do the power disparities between different agents impact the way they work together?
  • Who should pick up the tab if a contract doesn't have the social impact expected?
  • Can driving shared social outcomes be one way of ensuring power for all?
  • Are there examples of surprising stakeholders that can be included in the creation of partnerships for better outcomes around certain social issues?

This theme seeks to explore long-term systems change and how it might be brought about and maintained. Many entrepreneurial organisations worldwide are attempting to forge new forms of cross-sector partnership as a way to influence the different players in a system to work in more effective ways. But there is not yet a clear consensus as to how to make these new ways of working stick. Many partnerships are governed by contracts that are time-limited. We may feel an outcome-based partnership (such as an impact bond) is having an impact on the system, but how can we tell, and how long does the effect last?

  • How can contracts be used to support organisations to align their missions, make the most of each others’ capabilities, and continuously learn?
  • Can contracts and partnerships be used as a means of systems-change and, if so, how? How can we understand the systemic influence of an outcomes contract, if any?
  • How do we test whether we are truly making change for the ‘better’ on social issues, and not just making change on set outcomes?
  • When we talk about ‘scaling' particular models, such as impact bonds, what are we scaling?
  • Are outcomes-based partnerships durable? And can they achieve sustainable impact in the long-term?
  • How can we understand the inner working of how change is made, and how do multiple stakeholders assess and agree that the change is positive?
  • How can data be used to help our understanding of making change?

This theme captures much of the heart of the conference. The Social Outcomes Conference has been a place where, each year, we build forward from insights gained in previous conferences. The conference is a place of continued learning and of building on what has gone before to keep doing something new and improved. In this vein, our ‘innovations’ theme is an opportunity to hear about: best practice – how practice has been improved and built on; new ideas – fresh work in the field and the academic sphere; new experiments - the nitty-gritty details of how stakeholders are taking outcomes work in new directions. We are keen to hear about innovations, examples of building on the traditional foundations to create something fresh, and experiments or case studies that have yet to be studied in detail.

  • How are new technologies such as blockchain and machine learning being applied to support cross-sector partnerships?
  • How is data sharing and transparency being used to further best practice?
  • How do we go about intermediating between high-level outcomes defined by service users/people, and technocratic/measurable outcomes needed by a system for accountability, comparability, evaluation etc. Whose role is this? How can it be done? What examples are out there?
  • How are outcomes-based contracts evolving from a legal perspective? Can they be used as an adaptive tool for aligning goals?
  • Are there any new models of partnership that deserve further study and experimentation?

Submission details

We encourage submissions from:

  • academics
  • applied researchers
  • policymakers
  • contracting bodies/commissioners
  • providers of social services
  • social investors
  • responsible businesses
  • other stakeholders in the field of social outcomes

Submissions can take one of two forms: research paper abstracts or proposals for practice-focused presentations. Selected authors will have the opportunity to present their research or practical insights at the conference in a variety of engaging and interactive formats, from deep-dive panel discussions, to roundtables and workshops. More information on the structure of these submissions can be found in the form below. The provisional programme of the conference will be announced in June 2023.

Beyond formal conference proceedings, there are two other opportunities to share your work with our audience.

Engaging with Evidence series

The Engaging with Evidence series provides an additional opportunity to explore and expand upon topics that could not be accommodated in the main conference agenda. Please contact Andreea Anastasiu if you have any questions about this series.

Peer learning groups

At the Government Outcomes Lab, we coordinate a range of geographical and thematically focused peer learning groups. These groups cover a variety of topics, but their overarching aim is to support learning and knowledge sharing among those seeking to deliver improved social outcomes through cross-sector partnerships. They are:

    • Oxford Procurement of Government Outcomes (POGO) Club
    • INDIGO Peer Learning Group
    • GO Lab Research Forum
    • Value in Public Finance
    • Motives for Measurement

For any questions regarding academic papers submissions or to discuss your proposals for practice-focused presentations, please contact us at the Government Outcomes Lab,

If you are a policymaker or practitioner looking to share insights from your work but feel unsure about how best to format these at the conference, do get in touch with us at to discuss your ideas.

How do these themes relate to me?

Examples of how SOC23’s themes may relate to your work are:

  • Relationships and Trust: if you are working on academic research around economics of contract theory, negotiation, or contract management. Or research around the behavioural side of decision making, cooperation and game theory, trust and asymmetric information, or other similar topics. Maybe you want to bring your practice experience from being involved with relational contracts, maybe in comparison to transactional contracts around costs and benefits.
  • Power and Ethics: Research around political economy of health and social policy, accountability, and democracy would be relevant for this theme.
  • System Change: Economic renovation and the need to further appreciate the role of long-term impact of policy on societal welfare is relevant here. Topics around policy design and budgeting for sustainable and inclusive policies, while also attending to immediate issues in society, can present a trade-off which can be explored here.
  • Disrupting voices: This relates to research and practice insights on inclusion and distributional aspects of policy design, user-based interventions, and utilising subjective information for decision making.
  • Innovations: The role of disrupting innovations and their role in achieving better outcomes for public expenditure, improved cross-sector partnerships, and delivering better value for money. We like to know about both potentials and risks. Both theoretical and empirical evidence would be appreciated.

Examples of how SOC23’s themes may relate to your work are:

  • Trust is a key element of data collaboratives and co-produced data assets. Making sure that we build a trusted learning community will enable more data sharing to better understand cross-sector collaborations.
  • The ethics of data sharing is an important topic in the literature. What data can be shared easily when you are working in cross-sector partnerships? What data should be kept confidential? How do we ensure that we are using the data in a respectful and ethical way?
  • System Change is difficult to measure. When are we sure that change has happened? What data do we need to prove it? How do we know what cross-sector collaborations are changing for service users?
  • Disrupting voices tend to be unrepresented in datasets. We would like to explore how we can include them in our datasets in a fair, consistent and respectful way.
  • Data can be a source of innovation. Academics and practitioners are exploring the use of non-traditional data sources and methods to generate insights on how cross-sector collaborations work. INDIGO is an innovative way of sharing and gathering data that will spark several discussions over the Social Outcomes Conference.

Examples of how SOC23’s themes may relate to your work are:

  • Relationships and Trust: Every contract is a relationship and successful ones build on mutual trust. Good relationships and trust are particularly important for contracts designed for complex service delivery. Learn how contracts can be purposefully designed to create trusted and cooperative relationships via novel contractual models, how such models can enable flexible service delivery, and what this means for accountability and Procurement Law.
  • Power and Ethics: The contracting-out of social services often raises concerns about its impact on the quality of care for often vulnerable service users. Hear how contract design and governance can help ensure social outcomes that benefit the weakest in society.
  • System Change: Contracts can be drivers for system change. The conference will explore which contracting structures can drive system change in which circumstances. Hear from practitioners about how they implemented contracts designed to foster broader public service coordination, such as “Prime provider contracting”; “alliance contracting”; “outcome-based contracting”; and “Social Impact Bonds”. Get ideas and fresh analyses on how to ensure broad and long-term impact and sustainability.
  • Disrupting voices: bringing a 'legal' perspective to much of this work can be a 'disruptive voice' of itself - as it brings a new practice work.
  • Innovations: The exploration of innovation in contracting practice is at the heart of our conference. Our speakers will explore innovative contracting practices, ranging from contract design innovations to foster collaboration and goal alignment for better social outcomes, to the use of legal tech for contract management and evaluation.

Examples of how SOC23’s themes may relate to your work are:

  • Relationships and Trust: may relate to your work if you want to improve the performance of interorganisational cooperation, and are keen to learn about contracting and management strategies for fostering cross-organisational trust.
  • Power and Ethics: are key questions in the context of increasing distrust of citizens in government. Theconference is a place to learn more how to apply and promote ethical decisions in your work as a public administrator.
  • System Change: may relate to your work if you want to reduce silo-working and create over-arching accountability frameworks to solve complex, interrelated public policy problems.
  • Disrupting voices: may relate to your work navigating different geographic perspectives within the UK or globally, or to work engaging different political perspectives, or to work engaging voices from different social contexts
  • Innovations: might relate to your work if you want to learn about conditions for the successful adoption and diffusion of public service reform initiatives.

Examples of how SOC23’s themes may relate to your work are:

  • Relationships and Trust. Non-profit organisations are mission-driven, and therefore perhaps deserve greater trust from governments and others than they are given. Come to hear (and offer) perspectives on whether this trust should be earned or can be assumed.
  • Power and Ethics. Non-profit and community organisations tend to stand up for the less powerful in society. Learn how systems could be set up to better hear the voices of the people we are aiming to serve.
  • System Change. Sometimes charities are held back from delivering their mission by the system they operate in. Get ideas for how the system could be different and what might trigger change.
  • Disrupting voices. Get the voice of NGOs to be heard around the table of people who need to hear your perspective: governments, the private sector, and academics.
  • Innovations. Do you have an example of an interesting new approach to partnerships? Come and share what you have learned.

Examples of how SOC23’s themes may relate to your work are:

  • Relationships and Trust. Perhaps you have examples of building relationships and trust with market consultations before a procurement, during procurement procedures, or during contract performance? How might the different people involved in commissioning, procurement or contract management within a contracting authority work together to build relationships and trust with suppliers across complex service delivery networks? And does the contracting authority staff have the capacity to do work this way?
  • Power and Ethics. Regarding power: Perhaps you have reflections on who has the power in public procurement and why? How do power dynamics shift at different points in the outsourcing process? Does the contractor become more powerful as the contract goes on? If so, what information does the contracting authority need to retain power? How does outcomes-based contracting affect this dynamic? Do we want charities, small and medium-sized businesses, and/or voluntary, community, and social enterprise (VCSE) organisations to have a greater role in public contracts as prime contractors or subcontractors? Regarding ethics: Perhaps you have suggestions on how to enable oversight and ensure integrity, transparency, and accountability while also leveraging and building appropriate relationships?
  • System Change. Public services are often delivered through a complex delivery network. Perhaps you have seen a public procurement process or contract change a system for better or worse. If so, what did you see? What would you encourage or discourage the commissioners, procurement professionals, and contract manager to do?
  • Disrupting voices. Perhaps you know how service users and/or civil society should be involved in improving services. But how do you involve these individuals and groups in an impactful way? How might contracting authorities best ensure that services are informed by, and responsive to, service users and civil society groups? Do you know of examples where this worked well or not well?
  • Innovation. Expenditure on public contracts in the UK and around the world is massive, and is a critical tool for government action. Have you seen a contracting authority encourage or enable innovation through a public contact – or at least break the cycle of copy-and-pasting old requirements? How can requirements and/or contracts’ key performance indicators encourage or discourage innovation?

Examples of how SOC23’s themes may relate to your work are:

  • Academic papers on financing mechanisms, impact attribution, and frameworks and tools for measuring social impact alongside financial return may be relevant for this conference.
  • Relationships and Trust may look at how you manage the relationships with stakeholders and investees, exploring how they affect investment decisions and outcomes.
  • Power and Ethics might explore the tensions between different propositions of value (for instance, financial and social) reflected in risk-return assessments across various contexts. These themes may also relate to accountability in finance. For example, your experience in mitigating the risk of ‘impact-/green washing’ through auditing might help us better understand how to turn the good intention of impact investment into concrete, positive outcomes.
  • System Change may be relevant if you are involved in designing a shared vision and theory of change, scaling your financing activities, creating a consensus around measurement of social outcomes, and impact attribution. Under what conditions do investments act as an enabler for system change?
  • Disrupting voices may look at how you measure the positive outcomes delivered to the ultimate beneficiaries of your investment activities, as well as who decides what counts as positive outcomes. Are the user voices sufficiently reflected in outcomes measurement in your view, and if not, do you have ideas about how this can be done better?
  • Innovations may relate to new financing and risk-sharing mechanisms as well as the use of technologies to deliver better outcomes. The novelty may refer both to the ideas as well as their applications to a new context or policy domain.

Examples of how SOC23’s themes may relate to your work are:

  • Relationships and trust may relate to your work since effective health interventions that have been anticipated to launch successfully can break down in the implementation stage due to value misalignment.
  • Power and ethics largely affect many partnerships in our research and evaluation work. How do we ensure an equitable approach to our work that bears in mind a historical precedent of paternalism?
  • System change may relate to your work around the issue of building sustainable capacity in global and local health organisations. Can funding with a results-focus bring about meaningful improvements in health for the long-term?
  • Disrupting voices How do we navigate tensions between grassroot-level advocacy and ‘patient voice’ on one hand, and centralised, national-level, policy levers on the other?
  • Innovations may relate to the recent trend of innovative financing in health and social services. Have these innovative approaches addressed their original policy objectives to solve wicked problems?

Examples of how SOC23’s themes may relate to your work are:

  • Academic papers related to social impact measurement, policy evaluation, and impact-oriented collaborations are closely related to the conference themes.
  • Relationships and trust play a twofold role in the evaluation of social programs: (i) they might relate to the role of the evaluator itself as a trustworthy entity, allowing access to more reliable, granular and rich data, or (ii) the evaluator might consider it important to assess trust-related measures (between programme stakeholders) potentially influencing the programme success.
  • Power and ethics dynamics strongly influence evaluations, from programme design (e.g., ‘fairly’ defining control and treatment groups, transparent application processes) to practical considerations once programmes have been implemented (e.g., new data, ‘owned’ by specific stakeholders, may be needed to support the evaluation).
  • System change may relate to the evaluation of long-term consequences beyond outcomes for the targeted populations of the social programme (e.g., positive or negative externalities affecting the broader system, good practices that can spill over between organisations).
  • Disrupting voices play an important role in evaluating programmes through the trade-off between having narrow/strict measures and having enough room to assess transformative capacities.
  • The combination of innovative organizational practices with new measurement techniques, such as in outcomes-based contracts, might help in achieving higher transparency and avoiding misleading claims of positive impact.

Please feel free to get in touch with us at We would be happy to discuss your potential ideas with you.