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Narratives of Promise, Narratives of Caution: A Review of the Literature on Social Impact Bonds

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Alec Fraser, Stefanie Tan, Mylene Lagarde, Nicholas Mays

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4-28
Number of pages25
JournalSocial Policy And Administration
Issue number1
Early online date12 Oct 2016
Accepted/In press13 Jun 2016
E-pub ahead of print12 Oct 2016
PublishedJan 2018


King's Authors


Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) are a new mechanism for delivering public services. This article reviews the emerging SIB literature in high-income settings. It identifies three distinct narratives: a public sector reform narrative; a financial sector reform narrative; and a cautionary narrative. These are analyzed relative to three themes: public versus private values; outcomes contracting; and risk allocation. The first two narratives are complementary and offer a ‘win-win’ portrayal of SIBs. The third narrative challenges this dominant commentary by highlighting potential risks. There is limited empirical evidence on active SIBs to support these narratives. SIBs may have the potential to align public and private interests while improving outcomes for people affected by entrenched social problems, but this is yet to be established and appears less probable than the third more cautionary narrative. More empirical research is needed to consider the potential risks, drawbacks, benefits and alternatives of SIBs in different settings.

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