Urban Institute
Training and Technical Assistance Manager
Meg Massey
Urban Institute
Outreach Manager, Pay for Success
Urban Institute
Research Analyst

Future of PFS: 3 takeaways for service providers interested in pay for success

February 6, 2018 - 10:24am

Service providers are at the heart of every pay for success (PFS) project. It is the service provider who is expected to implement the intervention faithfully—even if it’s not an intervention they currently implement—as well as collect and provide data on their target population to other partners and, often, increase their staff or data collection capacity to meet the needs of the project. We discuss characteristics and experiences service providers should have in our frequently asked questions.

At the 2017 National Symposium on the Future of Pay for Success, we asked experts in project implementation from Social Finance, the American Institutes of Research, Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF), and Roca, Inc. (the service provider for the Massachusetts Juvenile Justice PFS project) to reflect on what it means for a service provider to be “PFS-ready.” Three takeaways came out of their discussion:

  1. “Readiness” can mean a few different things. While there are tools available—including Urban’s Project Assessment Tool—to help providers and other partners assess themselves on specific PFS project readiness components, there’s also readiness in a broader sense. Being a learning organization, for example, could be a sign of readiness because it means that the provider is well-positioned to adapt to the demands of a PFS project. A service provider can also engage in a performance-based contracting or other outcomes-based activities to demonstrate readiness.

  2. Service providers need support from other project partners. Project partners are in the best position to help service providers think through the key considerations that service providers should take into account as they join a PFS project. Partners, especially intermediary organizations, are in a unique position to explain the financing of a PFS deal—particularly how it differs from a provider’s traditional grant funding—and provide legal expertise where needed.  Providers should be proactive in asking for this support.

  3. Providers’ experiences with PFS can be useful beyond the project. Leveraging the work done in a PFS project can catalyze the achievement of broader organizational goals, even after the project concludes. For example, the evaluation of a PFS project, and the iterative data sharing that goes into it, can create an opportunity for data collection and evaluation not normally available. Providers should take an active role in discussing the metrics that they want to have measured to make sure they help paint a better picture of what is and is not working.

The panelists were also quick to remind service providers that the big picture remains important: PFS projects are one way to help organizations achieve lasting social change. The goal, after all, is impact—something all project partners must keep in mind. 

This is the fourteenth, and final, blog in our Future of PFS blog series.

On June 22nd and 23rd, 2017, the Pay for Success Initiative hosted a National Symposium on the Future of Pay for Success in Washington, D.C. The invite-only Symposium brought together leaders from government, nonprofits, and organizations active in pay for success to consider the big questions facing the field, as well as highlight lessons for engaging in PFS efforts. More information on the Symposium can be found here.

Over the past several months, the Initiative released a series of blogs highlighting important conversations, themes, and questions that arose during the Symposium. To join the conversation, visit pfs.urban.org, @UrbanPFSI and #FutureofPFS on Twitter, and subscribe to our monthly newsletter.

Have a Pay for Success question? Ask our experts here!

As an organization, the Urban Institute does not take positions on issues. Scholars are independent and empowered to share their evidence-based views and recommendations shaped by research. Photo via Shutterstock.