There’s been lots of interest recently in the work we’re doing to develop a social impact bond. I’ve met sceptics, enthusiasts and those at the coalface: from those who just think it is all ‘funny money’ (remember that expression?!) to others who see themselves as pioneers. Almost everyone seems to agree that SIBs are complex to run and challenging to deliver. But they also offer real opportunity.
We are in the development stages of establishing a neighbourhood youth work SIB in Sheffield and there are several things that strike me so far.
The first is just how refreshing it is to have an alternative way of thinking about funding. Although social investment is restricted in its scope – particularly where it requires a return on investment through cashable savings – at least it provides an alternative to the traditional funder-beneficiary model. What’s needed now is an evolution so SIBS are more flexible to set up and replicate. They need to be more accessible to smaller and community organisations and in how they pay against a range of outcomes.
Secondly SIBs force you to think differently about programme design. They require a clear articulation of young people’s needs, an understanding of locality and of what’s going to change as a result of the investment. This just makes good sense.
In focusing on outcomes we need to remember that youth work is also about progression and improvement in the lives of young people. Youth workers are trained to support young people in becoming more self-assured and to have a stronger sense of identity and purpose. Sometimes I think we are at risk of over-thinking this – isn’t it obvious that if you feel more confident and are better able to understand your own feelings and hopes then you are going to have a better chance of getting a job or staying on in school ? The trick for us in designing the SIB is to allow this work to happen and not to allow systems and procedures to overcrowd the youth work.
Organisations like the Centre for Youth Impact, which NYA has supported, have rightly focused our thinking on outcomes in youth work and the Catalyst Outcomes Framework provides an excellent structure for thinking about this. But designing a SIB has forced us to think much more clearly too about the inputs that are required in order to achieve these outcomes. I worry that in our drive to evidence impact (in order to replicate and scale up programmes) we’re missing the clarity we need about inputs, particularly the trained and qualified staff inputs that are required.
We have a lot of work to do yet but it is great to be working with partners to shape a concept. Everyone is very clear: this will only work if it responds to the needs of young people and it makes a significant difference to their lives.
For more information on NYA’s neighbourhood youth work SIB please contact Jon Boagey.