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This is our monthly policy briefing for September 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.

Social impact – learning lessons and looking to the future

This month saw reflections on efforts to leverage private capital for social impact to date, and considerations of where the approach might be headed next. There were a range of reports published on UK social investment, covering its history over the last 20 years, the changes that need to be made if it is to be further scaled, and its particular potential in Scotland.

Meanwhile, writing for the Oxford Government Outcomes Blog, Blavatnik School of Government MPP students Carolina Douek and Mayra Gramani explored why Brazil has not (yet) launched a social impact bond. Based on their own experience of developing SIBs in the country, as well as interviews with key stakeholders, they examine the barriers to SIB development in the country, and explore potential solutions.

Turning to the future of social impact, this article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review discussed the latest innovation in outcomes-based funding: the social impact guarantee (SIG). Based on the SIB model, the SIG aims to more closely align the approach to more traditional funding models, by replacing the upfront capital of an investor with a guarantor who will repay the outcome funder's upfront payment if targets are not met.

Elsewhere, authors explored the potential for more traditional impact bonds to tackle new challenges. This op-ed in the FT highlights the serious impact of biodiversity loss and suggests impact bonds might be part of the solution. And this article from the Brookings Institution makes the case for public-private partnerships, funded  through impact bonds, as a way to meet the need for greater access to Covid-19 vaccines in low- and middle-income countries.

Methods and meaning in measurement

Discussions of social impact often go hand-in-hand with those of measurement. A new paper from the OECD discusses the origins and drivers of social impact measurement, examines existing methodologies developed at the local, national and international level and finally reviews how these are being implemented in the social and solidarity economy. It takes stock of the policy mapping exercise conducted by the OECD, which draws on responses to an online survey and stakeholder consultations conducted in Brazil, Canada, India, Korea, Mexico and the United States.

However, while measurement can often be framed as a rigid technical process to regulate performance, this blog from the Centre for Public Impact suggests the need to move away from measurement as a means of control towards measurement for learning. It argues that while the current approach to measurement isn't working, there remain psychological and structural barriers to moving towards more productive forms of measurement. As a result, there remains a need to continue to experiment, to determine what meaningful measurement should actually look like.

And in other news...

September was a busy month for the GO Lab, as we launched a report reflecting on our first five years: the journey so far, the challenges and triumphs we’ve experienced, and what the next five years of the GO Lab might hold. Following our report launch and five year party, we hosted the latest meeting of our annual Social Outcomes Conference. Over a packed two days of sessions, we explored everything from the challenges that can arise from neglecting the procurement of social outcomes contracts to the role that government should play in responsible business.  You can access session recordings and highlights from Day 1 and Day 2 of SOC21 on our website.

Finally, two Commissions examining social issues in the UK published their final reports this month. The Commission into Prosperity and Community Placemaking published their report, No Place Left Behind, which makes a series of recommendations to realise the UK Government’s commitment to ‘level up left behind places’, including more community-focused urban planning, town centre regeneration, and support for community assets. And the Kerslake Commission on Homelessness and Rough Sleeping report argues that preventing, addressing and supporting recovery from homelessness and rough sleeping should be a shared ambition that cuts across all agencies, and cannot fall on one sector, requiring an integrated, system-wide approach.

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