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Our role in evaluating the Life Chances Fund

The Life Chances Fund (LCF) is an £80 million fund designed to help people in society who face the most significant barriers to leading happy and productive lives. The fund is dedicated to supporting the growth and development of outcomes-based commissioning through the use of social impact bond (SIB) approaches.

The GO Lab has been set up by Government and the University of Oxford to deepen the understanding of outcomes-based commissioning, and as part of that we want to understand the impact of the SIB model as a tool for improving the commissioning and delivery of public services, and help raise the standard of evaluations of SIB projects in order to strengthen the evidence based around SIBs.

There have been three rounds of funding available, these were:

Round One was announced in December 2017 with a focus on drug and alcohol dependency and support for children in care.

Round Two was announced in May 2018 and has a focus on SIBs for early years intervention and youth engagement for those who are not in education, employment or training (NEET).

Round Three was announced in September 2018 and has a focus on older people’s services and services that support healthy lives. There was also a ‘wildcard’ opportunity that allowed for applications from any other theme to submit.

Life Chances Fund: Full Award press summaries

Why is evaluation important?

Research work in partnership with LCF projects offers a great opportunity for improving our collective understanding of the SIB model. We will be working to investigate whether and how SIBs function as a route to deliver better outcomes and value for money compared to alternative commissioning approaches. The GO Lab is the official evaluation partner for LCF projects.

Our role in the evaluation of Life Chances Fund projects

The overall Life Chances Fund evaluation is structured across three strands:

1. Fund-level evaluation: this seeks to evaluate the Fund as a tool for growing the SIB market, the process involved and lessons learned from fund administration. The fund-level evaluation is being conducted by ICF, a management consulting company.

2. SIB project level evaluation: this seeks to evaluate SIBs as a commissioning tool. It will evaluate the impact, process and value for money of Life Chances Fund SIBs and will compare the SIB model to alternative commissioning approaches. The project level evaluation of selected Life Chances Fund SIBs will be conducted by the GO Lab.

3. Within SIB evaluations: the scope of these evaluations will be set by LCF applicants themselves. The research is likely to evaluate innovative interventions and/or specific aspects of the SIB model to inform sector knowledge. Projects might, for example, use formative evaluation to understand what is working well or not so well and use this insight to improve services. LCF projects will deliver or procure evaluation partners for strand 3 evaluation activity.

The GO Lab leads on strand 2 (SIB project level evaluation) and we are also providing pro bono support to projects in scoping strand 3. The GO Lab is committed to being a resource for each project going through the LCF. We are here to help answer tough questions about counterfactuals, research designs and data collection. This support can be arranged through scheduled telephone advisory surgeries, but we’re also available for quick questions via email at golab@bsg.ox.ac.uk.

Strand 2

SIB project level: ‘Primary’ Evaluation Process

Every project that receives LCF funds will be involved in what we’re calling our ‘primary’ evaluation at no additional cost. This is essentially a project level evaluation utilising information collected as part of the fund administration process. In addition, the GO Lab will be conducting a panel survey at 3 points across each project’s life course: 

  1. during set up; 
  2. during year 2 delivery; and 
  3. at the end of contract delivery. 

LCF applicants are able to support this process by ensuring that multiple stakeholders participate in surveys administered by the GO Lab. 

SIB project level: ‘Supplementary’ Evaluation Process

In addition to the Primary evaluation, some projects will be invited to work more intensely with the GO Lab in what we’re calling ‘supplementary’ evaluation projects. GO Lab will be in touch with projects directly. Where a project has been identified as a ‘supplementary’ evaluation site, this will be confirmed before Full Award.  

These optional evaluation projects will be selected based on the presence of a robust counterfactual, a cohort size sufficiently large to achieve statistical power, clear data collection processes, and earnest interest. 

Strand 3

GO Lab researchers are available to provide pro bono support to projects as they scope their site specific evaluation plans. We are also available to collaborate in the delivery of local evaluation projects. 

If you would like to find out more about our work on the evaluation of Life Chances Fund projects or have any specific evaluation questions that you would like to discuss with us, please do get in touch at golab@bsg.ox.ac.uk