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Futures in social investment? Whither Social Impact Bonds (SIBs)—learning from emerging policy and practice

Public Money & Management

SIBs are rapidly proliferating innovation wherein private investment, instead of government funding, is levered to fund social interventions. They are promoted as a funding mechanism that will allow innovation in delivering social outcomes and provide opportunities for new providers to enter the ‘market’ for delivering social outcomes. Currently there are at least 32 SIBs in the UK with the model proliferating worldwide in such diverse countries as Australia, Belgium, Canada, Poland, Portugal, Uganda and the USA across a wide range of areas including youth unemployment; mental health; criminal justice and homelessness. Yet despite attracting substantial attention since 2007, thinking surrounding SIBs has largely been developed by proponents, practitioners, and policy-makers. The empirical evidence to date on SIBs is limited. Academic critique is developing questions about the relationship with broader trends in social policy, social investment, social innovation and the wider social economy. However, the academic work so far is confined to single papers, or small pockets of work from a single disciplinary, theoretical or limited case study perspective.

We do not know if SIBs represent a new way of doing things or are merely a distillation of long-term trends. Our PMM theme aims to bridge this gap by developing questions about the relationship of the overarching SIB ‘project’ with broader trends in social policy, social investment and social innovation in the wider social economy. It will draw from a disparate community of academics working across a range of disciplines including social policy, public administration, public management, social ethics, political science, accounting and economic. These are pressing questions in an environment where significant expansion of SIB-based programmes is imminent despite the gaps in our empirical knowledge and theoretical understanding. Questions that will be examined in the PMM theme include:

  • What is the position and role of SIBs in the wider mix of social policy, social investment, social innovation and social economy?
  • What problems may/do SIBs solve for politicians, governments, policy makers and other stakeholders? Or do they create new problems of their own?
  • Are they a coherent, practical, ethical, efficient and/or effective funding instrument for public and social policy? Under which circumstances and in what contexts?
  • Is there a discernible ‘SIB’ effect and if so what are these effects and on whom do they impact and how?

Editorial Team

  • Sue Baines, MMU
  • Eleanor Carter, University of Oxford
  • Alec Fraser, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
  • Toby Lowe, Newcastle University
  • Neil McHugh, Glasgow Caledonian University
  • Stefanie Tan, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
  • Mildred Warner, Cornell University
  • Rob Wilson, Newcastle University


Outline proposals of 500 words for debate or new development pieces and 1000-1500 words for Research Papers should be sent to Rob Wilson by the end of January 2018. Successful prospective authors will be then invited to complete full submissions for full review by May 2018.

For further details on the submissions process, please visit our Instructions for Authors page. We look forward to reading your work!