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Here's an overview of all the sessions and the recordings for Day 1 of the hybrid Social Outcomes Conference 2023.

Thank you to all of those who joined us on day 1 of the Social Outcomes Conference 2023 as a speaker or participant - it was wonderful to have 200+ in-person attendees and a few hundred more online over our first ten sessions. To kick off SOC23, we began with our keynote address by Professor Mark Considine from the University of Melbourne. Prof Considine shared reflections on the challenges facing public-private models of service delivery and the key pathways for addressing these issues.

We then held three concurrent deep dive sessions, on building sustainable ecosystems for social outcomes contracting, procuring outcomes, and participatory approaches in research, services and policy. In the afternoon, we had four concurrent sessions exploring public sector reform, procuring sustainability, navigating collaborative governance, and pursuing social outcomes in fragile and conflict-affected states.

Next, we had our first big picture session exploring the potential of formal relational contracting in the public sector, before ending the day with our first ever book launch. This was of Social Economy Science, published by Oxford University Press


We were joined by our keynote speaker, Professor Mark Considine, of the University of Melbourne, and hundreds of people from across Europe, Asia, Oceania, Africa, and the Americas. Prof Considine shared insights from his research on public service delivery. This included discussion on if we are to improve multi-agent public services, why it is important to re-think regulatory relations, strengthen knowledge networks among commissioners and engage service users in problem-solving. Among the eleven herbs and spices were transparency, accountability and engaged oversight. He reminded the audience of the need for the government to get involved as providers of last resort and as innovators and left the audience with the following food for thought-

(The) steering not rowing metaphor has gone too far; the time for government to just pull levers and expect that the rest of the machine will just work is not valid anymore”  - Professor Mark Considine

The keynote was followed by a panel discussion with experts from both academia and practice. This discussions centered on approaching outcomes contracting from a systems perspective. Ben Jupp of NHS England spoke on the need to account for contractual values in service provision, highlighting that contracts cannot account for every element of service delivery no matter how detailed they are. Dr. Joe Abah of DAI Global spoke on how the civil service works to improve contracting despite numerous challenges and was optimistic about improvement in the future. Aman Johal of Big Society Capital challenged us to critically consider what other factors outside of contracts contribute to  effective public service. We concluded the session with a reminder from  Professor Ole Helby Petersen of Roskilde University to keep humans at the centre of approaches and interventions.

Understanding the ‘eleven secret herbs and spices’ - how do we improve effectiveness in multi-agent public services?

Morning Deep Dives

After the keynote, we took a deep dive into three areas of focus. The first session saw participants explore the comparative perspectives in different contexts to develop or strengthen system-level conditions to support social outcomes contracts. The panelists agreed that ecosystem development requires bringing a variety of players together, but to be sustainable, it requires additional features like maintaining learning and knowledge within the ‘constellation of players’. Rafaella de Felice (GSG) shared that “we need a common language but we have the key: impact. Impact is a very powerful incentive to connect across partners, to overcome the Babylon of different languages and it is also the core mechanism for outcomes contracts.”

Deep dive 1.1 Comparative perspectives on building sustainable ecosystems for social outcomes contracting

In the second deep dive, SOC23 participants had the chance to discuss practical approaches to the opportunities and challenges of outcomes-based contracts for public procurement. Jonathan Bland, Julian Blake and Jamie Veitch shared insights that commissioning stewardship in public services is just as important as competition, and so procurement should promote collaboration. Shira Tzachor and Yehonatan Almog shared insights from the procurement of social services in Israel. In their experience, system change requires a holistic approach encompassing policy and methodology development, data and infrastructure creation and human capital and capacity building. Professor Simon Collinson shared ongoing work in leveraging procurement procedure to reach sustainability targets: “if spending power is focused on suppliers adopting new net-zero technologies, then you’d have an increase in sustainability.” Russ Wood spoke on how to bring traditional public infrastructure procurement together with social services procurement.

Deep dive 1.2 Procuring outcomes - still knotty?

The third session, chaired by Vanessa Lefton (Policy Lab UK), saw panelists look at participatory research involving marginalised groups, participatory practices in service commissioning and implementation, and knowledge transfer and learning between frontline organisations and policy-makers. Victoria Busby and Michael People of the Kirklees Better Outcomes Partnership shared their experiences integrating lived experiences of users into intervention design. Patsy Kraeger shared insights on participatory practices in place-based interventions to meet community needs. Mohammed Hassan of the Refugee Led Research Hub shared their work which seeks to foster a meaningful contribution to research from people with lived experiences. Sharing lessons from homelessness research, Gary Painter explained that social innovation processes are iterative processes, that introduce co-production as a source of innovation. The session concluded that integrating participatory approaches enriches delivery.

Deep dive 1.3 Participatory approaches in research, services and policy

Afternoon Deep Dives

After lunch, we once again split into four parallel sessions. The first took a deep dive into the policy journey around the Life Chances Fund (LCF), building on insights generated through the evaluation work, to explore how the evidence coming out of the LCF can inform public sector reform efforts. We heard about the desire of the LCF to drive efficiency and to test new ways of approaching the use of public spending. GO Lab’s Eleanor Carter discussed the importance of adaptive learning partners, close relationships between the research team and the government, and good data stewardship. The panel also discussed the role of central government post-LCF, and how government should consider different outcomes and remain active in experimenting and learning innovative ways of responding to social issues. The session also highlights the role of the academic and research institutions as a convenor to help navigate the contours of the evidence base.

Deep dive 1.4 Public sector reform: insights from the Life Chances Fund & beyond

Meanwhile, we kicked off a discussion on practical opportunities and challenges of implementing wider policy goals through contracts, in particular recent experiences of procurement professionals working to mitigating climate change. Jo Mitchell from the Scottish Government talked about Scotland’s journey of achieving sustainable procurement outcomes. Prof Tom Hale of the Blavatnik School looked at the broader rise of net zero regulation and how procurement could play an interesting role to drive higher social value. Prof Anne Davies (Oxford Law Faculty) shared that “accountability is key, and key to accountability is transparency.” She emphasised the need to think about accountability across many levels - in the contract, among procurement officials, and the broader accountability of government in the policy of social value.

Deep Dive 1.5 Procuring sustainability

At the same time, a parallel session on collaborative governance between public and private sector stakeholders explored how collaborative governance can drive innovation, foster trust and enhance decision-making for better outcomes in public service provision. The speakers discussed several key determinants including leadership, resources, hybrid structures, and trust and relational processes. Brian Ohl from the Maxwell School, Syracuse University, suggests that inflexible funding may be a challenge to collaborative governance and that if collaboration was included in the budget process, then better outcomes may be achieved.

Deep Dive 1.6 Navigating Collaborative Governance

The fourth deep dive session looked at pursuing better social outcomes in fragile and conflict-affected states. Louise Savell (Social Finance) emphasised that fragile states are a heterogenous group and that the details of the contexts will define what is possible. Panelists also shared that, in fragile settings, it is key to think about capacity not only in government, but also in civil society and service providers

Deep Dive 1.7 Pursuing better social outcomes in fragile states

Big Picture Session- Firming up the handshake: exploring the potential of formal relational contracting in the public sector

This discussion brought together a rich mix of policymaker and practitioner perspectives from around the world for an in-depth exploration of formal relational approaches to public-private partnerships seeking to resolve complex social problems.

This session, chaired by GO Lab's Dr Felix-Anselm van Lier, noted a widespread acknowledgement that the current transactional approach to public-private partnerships in delivering public services isn’t working.  Policymakers and practitioners regularly emphasise the need for more cooperative, productive relationships between stakeholders. The session discussed  on the latest insights from research, policy and practice to explore how a formal relational approach to public-private partnerships seeking to resolve complex social problems might prove more fruitful. 

Professor Carolyn Heinrich reflected on some of the dimensions influencing the spectrum from formal to relational including the number of  partners (few/ many), scope of the work (narrow/broad), communication practices (formal/informal)  and implementation plans (flexible /specific). James Magowan of DCMS discussed the need for accessing risk and finding common language for relational contracting. Professor David Van Slyke left the audience to ponder this “Think about any non-contractual relationship you’ve been in. Every time you add a set of rules you get a funny look, as you layer on more rules, which layers on more rigidity which signals mistrust."

The session noted the need to continue developing  knowledge on frameworks to improve the uptake of  relational contracting.

Big Picture: Firming up the handshake

Book Launch - Social Economy Science - transforming the economy and making society more resilient

We concluded the day by marking the publishing of Social Economy Science by Oxford University Press. Edited by Gorgi Krlev, Dominika Wruk, Giulio Pasi, and Marika Bernhard, the book brings together cutting-edge research on a suite of important questions such as: How can social entrepreneurship and social innovation play an essential role in addressing persistent societal problems, including the challenge of creating more democratic, equitable and participatory forms of organising? How can impact investing and social outcomes contracting by governments change the ways in which we think about funding the common good?

The book includes contributions from leading scholars and practitioners in the field, including Geoff Mulgan, Julie Battilana, Mario Calderini, and GO Lab’s own Eleanor Carter. The book launch was also co-hosted with Kellog College, University of Oxford.

Book Launch