The Latest from ATQ

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In June 2022 we published high-profile research into the value created by Social Outcomes Contracts (SOCs) in the UK.  Our report was part of broader work by Big Society Capital (now Better Society Capital) to reflect on and celebrate the growth of SOCs over the last ten years.

On June 11th we published an update to this report, which reflects growth in both the number of contracts and the impact achieved by those contracts since our last report.  It also improves the methodology we adopted to undertake the analysis.

So why have we updated the analysis, and how have we changed and improved our approach?

To take the why first, our previous report was deliberately limited to estimating value based on outcomes already achieved, and did not forecast the future impact of projects that were then in progress. It also omitted a number of projects because in 2022 they were at too early a stage to have had much impact.  The main reason for the update, therefore, was to add in the additional value created by these contracts since our first report.  The new report adds in the further value created by 37 projects that were in progress at the time of our first report; it also includes ten projects which were not in our original analysis at all – either because they were too early stage or had not started.

On the how, the important change we made was to attempt to estimate the extent to which our original report might have over-estimated value by including “deadweight” – that is impact that might have happened anyway, if the SOCs had not existed.  We avoided this in our first report because it is very difficult to do for a large number of contracts (our original report covered 76 projects; the new one covers 86). However we thought it was worth addressing this challenge because it makes the analysis more robust, since some outcomes are bound to happen anyway – either because other services are available to support people or because people sometimes improve their circumstances without help.  Though given the cuts in public services in recent years, and the complexity of need of most of the people helped by SOCs, this happens less often than some might think.

Better Society Capital also convened a Technical Advisory Panel with expertise in the delivery, measurement and evaluation of social outcomes and social interventions which independently reviewed the draft report and findings. This Panel was immensely helpful and made a number of suggestions for further improving both the analysis itself and its presentation.

The net result is a report which we think is even better than the original, and even more robust in its findings. It finds that the 86 contracts have so far generated total public value of £1.86 bn (after adjustment for deadweight) from spend on outcome payments of £217 m.  Like its predecessor, we hope it contributes to the debate about whether and where SOCs can improve public service delivery, and also save money.

In August 2018, the Home Office awarded grants to eleven Local Authorities (LAs) across England to deliver Trusted Relationships projects between 2018 and March 2022.  As Implementation Partner for this programme, ATQ provided support to the projects.  We therefore saw first-hand how the projects encountered and overcame their respective implementation challenges.  Our report presents ATQ’s observations and the headlines are:

  • Length and stability of funding is critical. Any support programme aimed at vulnerable people with complex needs will only work if it is designed and funded on a long-term basis – at least three years and preferably longer, as was the case here.  This allows time for programmes to ramp up, overcome teething issues and avoid inefficient and ineffective spending as projects struggle to spend money in a limited timeframe.  More importantly, it gives front line teams the time and space to establish working relationships with both the vulnerable young people that the programme is designed to serve, and the networks of statutory and non-statutory delivery partners that are part of any support service.
  • Flexibility of project design is key. As this programme has shown, there may be common principles underpinning programmes aimed at complex issues but a range of different approaches is possible, and projects should (as these do) reflect local needs and organisational structures, especially if we want to understand better what works best by testing alternatives.  A strength of this programme has been that it has allowed for such difference.
  • Services and interventions need to be co-designed with those they aim to support, within obvious limits. Vulnerable young people need agency rather than top-down solutions to what others perceive as their needs.  Services also need to sit both inside and outside statutory services – inside so that they can facilitate joined-up responses; outside so that they can successfully engage with those who have learned to distrust the system.  It became very clear from direct involvement of young people with our shared learning events and other visits with officials that young people can be and are very articulate about their needs and how support can best be provided.
  • Cross-cutting issues require joined-up solutions. This programme has shown how services targeted at a complex problem that do not fit neatly into public service silos can be the ‘glue’ that binds services together across areas that habitually have a different focus – especially those that treat people as victims needing support and those that treat them as offenders needing sanction and rehabilitation.  Based on our four-year involvement, ATQ would contend that Trusted Relationships has provided this ‘glue’ for an average of around £250,000 per project per year.
  • Understanding why people behave as they do is as important as what they do. The projects have shown the particular value of trauma-informed practice, and understanding how adverse experiences may shape the way people behave, and their willingness to respond to intervention.  In our opinion, this is particularly important in CSE and CCE, where exploitation itself may lead to significant trauma.

The Department for Education has just published the Final Report from a longitudinal evaluation of three SIBs that aimed to improve outcomes for young people leaving local authority care, with a particular emphasis on employment, education and training (EET) outcomes. ATQ Director Neil Stanworth was part of the evaluation team, which has been evaluating the three projects (In South London, Greater Bristol and Sheffield) since 2018.

Commenting on the report, Neil said “We’re really pleased that this report has finally been published, after a number of delays.  It shows how social outcomes contracts can make a real difference to the lives of some very vulnerable young people, and also how social investment funding enables real flexibility in the way complex support is delivered.”

Big Society Capital has just published new research by ATQ into the value of social outcomes contracts and social impact bonds in the UK.  Commissioned by BSC as part of their Outcomes for All report, and based on detailed analysis of 76 contracts implemented since 2010, the research found that outcomes to date had generated benefits worth more than £1.4 billion.

Commenting on the launch of the report, Neil Stanworth of ATQ said:  “We were delighted to be asked to undertake this work for Big Society Capital.  We have been estimating the value created by social interventions for many years, and think it really important that commissioners and policy makers understand just how much public value can be created if poor outcomes such as homelessness or long-term unemployment can be averted.  We hope that our work will contribute to a wider debate on this”

Neil has written a blog on this work which can be found here.

ATQ also co-authored another major report released this week, which summarises findings over the last 3 years from the evaluation of the Commissioning Better Outcomes Fund.  ATQ has been partnering Ecorys UK in conducting this evaluation since 2014.

For further information on either of these reports, please contact Neil at [email protected]

Last week Ecorys/ATQ published our 2nd Update Report on the evaluation of the Growth Fund, tracking its impact over its first 5 years (2015-2020).

We found that the Growth Fund, a blended finance programme between The National Lottery Community FundBig Society Capital and ACCESS – THE FOUNDATION FOR SOCIAL INVESTMENT, has been successful in its aim of making small-scale loans more available to the charity and social enterprise sector. This in turn is strengthening the charities’ and social enterprises’ financial resilience and increasing their ability to support a wider set of people. We also highlight a number of lessons the partnership has learnt along the way, and aspects we suggest experimenting with further in the future.

Follow the links to read Ecorys/ATQ’s Full report and Executive summary, as well as blogs by Access Foundation and The National Lottery Community Fund.

ATQ Directors have been major contributors to two important recent reports on outcomes-based commissioning and SIBs.

The first was commissioned by the Centre for SIBs within the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and looks at the challenges and benefits of commissioning social impact bonds and the potential for replicating and scaling this type of contract. The report presents practical tips for commissioners to facilitate an easier commissioning process and provides recommendations to government to further the replication and scaling of SIBs in the UK. It was co-authored by ATQ Director Neil Stanworth along with colleagues from Ecorys UK and can be downloaded here. Neil has also written this blog summarising the report’s findings with Rachel Wooldridge from Ecorys.

The other report was a major update on the evaluation of the Commissioning Better Outcomes Fund which ATQ have been supporting, again alongside Ecorys, since 2014. This report draws on a range of other work done as part of the evaluation, including in-depth reviews of specific projects and stand-alone surveys of key stakeholders.  It includes major contributions from both Neil and fellow ATQ Director Edward Hickman, and can be downloaded here.  Another blog by Neil about this report can also be found on the GO Lab website here