The first social impact bond was launched in 2010 by Social Finance in Peterborough, UK. Its performance management systems and processes are an important part of its operation[i]. Andrew Palmer, writing in The Economist, highlighted that a
“strength of the Peterborough scheme is how it is monitored…. Data dashboards show everything from how being met at the gates affects reoffending rates, to month-on-month comparisons of case workers’ activities. Again, the structure of the social impact bond helps: it is a contractual mechanism that ensures investors, [government] commissioners and providers agree on outcomes and maintain constant communication about progress. The task for [government] is how to replicate this monitoring process on a much bigger scale[ii].”
The Peterborough Social Impact Bond has one data system that is used by several service delivery organisations to record information on a shared group of clients. Clients attest to the benefit of only having to tell their story once, and delivery staff describe the benefit of sharing information on client progress. One of the workers delivering family support services said, “When you’re thinking you don’t have the answer, someone else might…as a social worker I’ve never had that before; I’ve always been on my own.” [iii] The system has led to successful adjustments to the original service, such as the introduction of mental health services[iv].
The performance management systems developed for social impact bonds are applicable to all social programs, particularly those which are continuously evolving. As Julian Corner wrote of Peterborough in NewStart Magazine,
“its design overcame all of the limitations that had dogged so many previous pilots. As a result, the workers have been freed up to contend with and learn from the real challenges of the lives of short-term prisoners…They have been able to make mistakes, learn and change the service, and have had a clear incentive to do so[v].”
[i] Disley, E. & Rubin, J. (2014). Phase 2 report from the payment by results Social Impact Bond pilot at HMP Peterborough. Ministry of Justice.
[iii] Nicholls, A., and Tomkinson, E. (2013). Case Study: The Peterborough Pilot Social Impact Bond. Oxford: Saïd Business School, University of Oxford.
[v] Corner, J. (2014). Transforming Rehabilitation is being dressed in sheep’s clothing. NewStart Magazine.