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

Alec Fraser*, Stefanie Tan, Mylene Lagarde, Nicholas Mays

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

152 Citations (Scopus)
97 Downloads (Pure)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4-28
Number of pages25
JournalSocial Policy And Administration
Issue number1
Early online date12 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2018


  • Outcomes-based performance management
  • Public sector reform
  • Social entrepreneurship
  • Social Impact Bonds


Dive into the research topics of 'Narratives of Promise, Narratives of Caution: A Review of the Literature on Social Impact Bonds'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this