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Call for papers: Comparative perspectives on Social Impact Bonds and outcomes-based approaches to public service commissioning

SIBs International Conference

Posted 7 Mar 2018, 2:22 p.m.

Comparative perspectives on Social Impact Bonds and outcomes-based approaches to public service commissioning: learning across geographical, thematic and disciplinary boundaries

Date: 6-7th September 2018

Location: Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford

Hosted by the Government Outcomes Lab, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford; Newcastle University Business SchoolPolicy Innovation Research Unit, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; and RAND Europe

In 2018 Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) are functioning in more countries and in more policy sectors than ever before. The SIB approach, which establishes a three-way relationship between a public sector commissioner, service provider and independent investor has been pursued in the belief that it can unlock a range of benefits including improved cost effectiveness, innovation and improved social outcomes (Gustafsson-Wright et al. 2015). Evidence on the degree to which SIBs are able to live up to their promises is nascent and there is still much to learn/assess. With growing adoption of the SIB model and its extension into the realm of ‘development impact bonds’ there is a clear imperative for the community of researchers and SIB practitioners to share empirical findings, theoretical developments and assess the “SIB effect”.

The conference will draw together academic and practitioner voices from various disciplines that can inform and progress the debate around SIBs. The conference will be of interest to academics, researchers, practitioners and policy makers and will include keynote speeches from international experts and innovative interactive group sessions alongside more traditional academic paper presentations. 

In keeping with the 2016 and 2017 SIB conferences, we invite critical perspectives on SIBs and theoretically compelling, empirically informed research. As a consequence of the growing application of the approach and with several early-stage SIBs now having matured (e.g. Peterborough) the research community has a greater volume of evaluative data to draw upon. Additionally, more diverse theoretical approaches to SIB analysis are emerging (e.g. Neyland, 2017; Tse & Warner, forthcoming). In order to capitalise on these developments, the 2018 conference will be structured around an explicit effort to develop comparative approaches to foster deeper understanding of Social Impact Bonds. 

The kinds of questions the conference will explore include, but are not limited to:

  • The “SIB effect”: how do SIBs compare to alternative funding mechanisms (e.g. payment by results, grants)? What are the added benefits and costs of using a SIB?
  • International comparisons: how do SIBs operate in different countries? How, and in what ways, do they differ in their approach to attribution and target policy areas? What can transnational analysis tell us?
  • Sectoral comparisons: are some policy sectors more or less amenable to SIBs than others – what theoretical and empirical data is emerging around this?
  • Temporal comparisons: how is the concept of the SIB changing over time, and what does this mean for future directions and applications?
  • Comparative theory development: how are the research and practice communities drawing on theory in order to develop and understand SIBs?
  • Comparative methodology development: how are the research and practice communities drawing on innovative methodologies in order to develop and understand SIBs?
  • Lesson learning: what can academic, practitioner and service user insights from SIB research teach us about parallel developments (e.g. Development Impact Bonds; Social Investment) and vice versa? 

For those wishing to present at the conference, please send a 500 word abstract to by 8th June 2018. Informal inquiries can be directed to Jonathan Kimmitt at Newcastle University or Eleanor Carter at Oxford University. 

Call for burning questions

For practitioners interested in the application of the SIB approach (be that as public sector commissioners, provider organisations, investors or intermediaries) please send a short description of a particular question or challenge that has not been addressed by the SIB research community so far. Please send your submissions to by 11th June 2018.

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