What has changed: outputs to outcomes
In commissioning and public service delivery, a cultural shift is taking place, with an increasing focus on outcomes and impact. Cuts in public-sector funding caused by austerity measures mean that commissioners now need to see real results from the services they fund.
In the past, commissioning focused on outputs, which give no indication of how effective the intervention has been and does not provide evidence of the longer-term financial consequences for the public purse.
The challenges of moving to an outcomes approach
The challenges for both commissioners and providers are
- defining outcomes
- finding credible ways of measuring achievement of those outcomes
Hounslow borough council provides an example of how funding priorities for the voluntary sector are linked to the key themes of its Community Strategy, such as:
- A healthy and caring community
- A safer and stronger community
- Support for the vulnerable.
Organisations bidding for contracts need to be able to show how they are going to meet outcomes within those themes, and be able to provide evidence if they wish to be re-commissioned.
NEF’s work with local authorities to implement an outcomes approach
NEF describes how it has worked alongside several local authorities to implement a new approach to commissioning for outcomes, starting with re-commissioning a Mental Health Day Service in Camden.
The new ‘outcomes-focused’ commissioning approach radically changed the tendering and procurement process, including:
- developing an outcomes framework that included social, environmental and economic outcomes for people who used the service and for the wider community
- specifying that co-production should be a key feature of the service and that providers should show how they would work with people using the service, and with the wider community
- tendering by using the outcomes framework and a set of quality characteristics to help refine the offer, and asking prospective providers to design the activities and support that would achieve the required outcomes
- monitoring and evaluating outcomes, rather than outputs, throughout the duration of the contract.
- A better return: setting the foundations for intelligent commissioning to achieve value for money (NEF publication)
- Beyond Big Contracts about commissioning for better outcomes
- Commissioning for better outcomes (Local Government Association)
- Commissioning for better outcomes: Understanding local authority and voluntary sector experiences of family services commissioning in England (Barnardo’s Children England and others)