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This is our monthly policy briefing for March 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

Covid-19, one year on

Last month marked a year since the UK entered its first lockdown in an attempt to ‘stop the spread’ of Covid-19. This anniversary was accompanied by wide-ranging reflections on the impact of the pandemic to date, and what it means for society moving forward. The British Academy released a report into the long-term impacts of the pandemic on British society, examining the effects on health and wellbeing, communities, and skills and employment. The research finds that Covid has exacerbated existing geographic, structural and health inequalities, as well as bringing new challenges, with increasing demand for social security coming at a time of significant pressure on public finances. 

According to the Global Steering Group for Impact Investment, part of addressing these challenges and supporting a just recovery from the pandemic is results-based finance. This month, in partnership with the Education Outcomes Fund, they produced an action guide to equip GSG National Advisory Boards to achieve more and better social and environmental outcomes through results-based financing. The guide looks at the wide range of RBF instruments beyond impact bonds, identifies a number of barriers and enablers to RBF adoption, and focuses on the approach’s potential to improve outcomes in education, labour market development and health.  

Procurement in the spotlight

Another big topic throughout the pandemic has been procurement, from early controversies over PPE to differences in UK and EU vaccine acquisitions. In his monthly blog, Nigel Ball considers how the latter exemplifies the broader challenge of distributing risk when contracting out public services, drawing on his own experience and a summary of the work of three different Nobel prize-winners in three sentences! 

This kind of challenge is also being explored by GO Lab Research Fellow Clare FitzGerald and Research Associate Ruairi Macdonald, who are part of a multi-university team investigating local government procurement spending during the pandemic. The study will examine what has worked well (and what has not), and encourage broader reflections on the ability of the procurement system to respond to a crisis and how gains might be achieved in the response to Covid-19 

Beyond the pandemic, the Oxford Procurement of Government Outcomes (POGO) Club submitted their response to the UK government’s green paper on Transforming public procurement, which sets out the vision for the country’s post-Brexit procurement rules. The group’s response focuses on the procurement of social outcomes, and in this blog, lead authors Professor Anne Davies and Ruairi Macdonald offer an overview of four key themes: culture, outcomes, transparency and learning. 

And in other news...

Unlike this time last year, there is more to talk about than Covid. In the world of impact bonds, Sam Magne discusses the West London Zone Collective Impact Bond’s ability to coordinate a system of partners to improve people’s lives, examining how a rate card can do more than simply specify payable outcomes. Reflecting on our Engaging with Evidence session on the FCDO’s DIB pilot programme, Tanyah Hameed considers when development impact bonds are a good idea, and indeed whether they are necessary to produce the positive effects they have.  

One DIB that does seem to have been a good idea is the Cambodian WASH DIB, which released a report on the lessons learned in its first year. The report highlights the programme’s impressive results to date, as well as the importance of a range of features, including careful outcomes specification and robust data. Elsewhere, Politico produced an in-depth case study on the Elton John AIDS Foundation’s SIB, which aims to reduce HIV through improved testing and diagnosis, and engagement with health services. 

Beyond outcomes-based contracting, researchers from the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative shared tools to build collaborative capacity at the municipal level, and practitioners from the City of New Orleans discussed their journey to engage with citizens and rebuild trust. Effective local action, building on collaboration and citizen engagement, will be crucial to addressing the longer-term societal impacts of the pandemic identified in the British Academy’s report. 

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