Pay For Success

Pay For Success is a public-private partnership in which a non-government funder pays the up-front costs for a social service intervention and is repaid by a government actor based on the achievement of previously agreed-upon target outcomes

The term “pay for success” (“PFS” in shorthand) is most commonly used in the United States. The concept originated in the United Kingdom under the name “social impact bond.” When the concept was introduced in the United States, the name “pay for success” was adopted because not all projects are formulated with a traditional bond structure. In emerging markets, the term “development impact bond” has emerged to describe this concept in an international development context. 

CHARACTERISTICS

The principle characteristics of a Pay For Success project are as follows:

  • A focus on outcomes, rather than outputs. Payments are made based on the outcomes experienced by the people served by the social service intervention, rather than the number of people served. This is a structural shift from how most social services are funded. 
  • Up-front funding by a non-government funder: The social service intervention is paid for by a private investor, philanthropy, or other non-government funder, who can expect to be repaid only if target outcomes are achieved. If the project is unsuccessful — and the target outcomes are not achieved — then that non-government funder is not repaid for the investment. Therefore, taxpayers are not responsible for paying for an intervention that did not work as planned. 

HISTORY

The concept was originated by Sir Ronald Cohen in the UK.

The first social impact bond was implemented at Peterborough Prison near York, UK. In that project, a private investor paid for people who were preparing to be released from prison but deemed to be at a higher risk for re-offending to participate in a new recidivism diversion program. The UK government agreed to repay the investor if recidivism among the participants was reduced by a targeted percentage. The project launched in 2010 and concluded in 2015, with findings that showed a reduction in reoffending. Results: https://www.rand.org/randeurope/research/projects/social-impact-bonds.html

In 2010, the US federal government under President Barack Obama began adapting the concept for use by state and local grantees of federal funding from the US Departments of Labor, Education, and Justice. This work was centralized under the White House Domestic Policy Council’s Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation. The first projects in the US launched in 2012.

ACTORS IN PAY FOR SUCCESS

Each pay for success project or initiative has the following actors participating:

  • Government actor: A government agency is responsible for paying for outcomes upon achievement, based on terms agreed upon by all parties in the project negotiation. Repayment is generally expected to be consistent with the money the government is saving due to the intervention. For example, a reduction in the number of formerly incarcerated people reoffending leads, in theory, to fewer prisoners that the government must support. 
  • Service provider: The social service intervention is provided by a non-profit or for-profit organization. The service provider contracts with the non-government actor making the up-front investment, so they are paid for delivering the intervention regardless of impact. Typically, the service provider is selected by the investor, with review or approval from the government, through a competitive process and must demonstrate expertise or a track record of success in delivering the service to the target population. 
  • Non-government funder: A non-government funder pays the upfront costs of the service provider to deliver the social service intervention to the target population. This non-government actor is often a private investor, but could also be a philanthropy, community foundation, high net worth individual, or other funder. If the social service intervention reaches agreed-upon outcomes, the actor is repaid. If not, the actor is expected to take the loss. 
  • Evaluator: An independent evaluator is contracted to perform an independent evaluation of the social service intervention provided to the target population, to determine whether agreed-upon outcomes were met. The rigor of the evaluation, including the use of a control group, is determined by the parties involved. 
  • Intermediary organization: Most PFS projects have an intermediary organization that serves a mediation and management role. This organization brings the parties together to create the project and agree on the target outcomes to be achieved. The work of the intermediary organization is often funded by philanthropic donations. 

PAY FOR SUCCESS PROJECTS AND SOCIAL IMPACT BONDS

CRITIQUES / CONTROVERSIES / CONCERNS

Overview of valid critiques of the model —

  • Concern that PFS would siphon money from existing social programs and/or private them has not come to fruition. Model is intended to validate/test whether a new service/intervention is more effective then status quo — governments may or may not end up using that information
  • Evaluations: An independent evaluation is a core part of a pay for success project. The expectations for the rigor of that evaluation have been debated, particularly in the wake of Urban Institute and other early field leaders have argued that PFS project evaluations should be randomized control trials (RCTs) unless there is a compelling reason to use a less rigorous method. 
  • Scalability: Since the launch of the first pay for success projects, a major critique of the model has been the cost of putting projects together. Philanthropic grants are generally still required to fund the 18-to-24-month process.  
  • Concern that governments will not scale successful projects – too early to tell
  • Capacity building for nonprofits

Case Studies

In 2015, India pioneered the world’s first development impact bond (DIB) where the outcome payer was a private foundation. Read more in the following case study from AVPN:

Additional Resources

Video: https://pfs.urban.org/library/content/pay-success-importance-evidence

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