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With three social impact bonds (SIBs) currently being implemented in the East of England, a question for the region is whether a peer-to-peer learning network might be able support to practitioners to increase this number? If indeed there is an appetite to do so. Led by a local champion, Graham Philips, Policy and Project Officer, Norfolk County Council with support from the GO Lab established an East of England Knowledge Club in the Autumn of 2018 to explore this very question.

The vision of the Knowledge Club 

The vision of the East of England Knowledge Club is to provide an opportunity for public and private practitioners from across the region to discuss challenges and successes in outcome-based commissioning approaches. Previous experience of knowledge clubs in other regions of England have taught us that no one individual or organisation has all the answers, therefore there is value in bringing people together to share knowledge and experiences. We also understood that some will be well versed in outcome-based commissioning approaches while others will be coming to this for the first time. A knowledge club provides a useful platform to leverage the experience of outcome-based commissioning veterans to support and guide less experienced practitioners through their bottle necks.

The East of England Knowledge Club has previously met twice via teleconference and discussed the need for an outcome-based development and delivery support network. It was felt that the practitioners in the region were isolated and that a knowledge club could be the answer to connect them. Furthermore, a knowledge club might promote and foster greater collaboration in the region. As mentioned above, there are currently three SIBs in implementation and a further one in development, given the limited experience in the region on outcome-based commissioning the knowledge club might help shift the focus from grant funding to outcomes funding. This is potential a big step for many organisations in the region, and the knowledge club can support in this effort.

The first meeting - what does good look like? 

To build on the success of these previous wide-ranging discussions, Graham gathered representatives from local government commissioners to voluntary, community and social enterprises (VCSEs) to meet in person to discuss what a good social outcome-based commissioning ecosystem in the region would look like?

The meeting had a clear goal of articulating what a good social outcome-based commissioning ecosystem in the East of England would look like. It also identified the steps needed and the stakeholders to be engaged to achieve this vision. In order to reach this goal Leigh Crowley from the GO Lab led a session that asked the participants brainstorm what good looks like. The participants were split into two groups, with one focusing on the higher-level ecosystem while the other group thought through what is needed to pilot outcome-based approaches.

As one might expect, similar themes emerged from each group. A need to generate interest and buy-in from across the stakeholder spectrum was identified. From elected members to commissioners (Clinical Commissioning Groups were identified as a key for the region) to VCSEs. In order to achieve buy-in there is a need to “demystify” outcome-based commissioning within all of these stakeholders. The good news is that this is where the knowledge club can support! The knowledge club can offer the peer support to instil confidence within stakeholders to explore new financing approaches. If we are able to bring these stakeholders onboard, the region will be ripe for co-production and co-creation to resolve the most intractable social issues. This marks a shift from competition to collaboration. 

If you would like to participate in the East of England SIB Knowledge Club please contact leigh.crowley@bsg.ox.ac.uk.