Kimberly Burrowes
Urban Institute
Training and Technical Assistance Specialist
Urban Institute
Research Assistant

Future of PFS: Partnering for success

July 28, 2017 - 2:54pm

While the focus in pay for success (PFS) is, understandably, on outcomes for vulnerable populations, there is tremendous value in the very process of developing a project. 

At the Urban Institute’s National Symposium on the Future of Pay for Success, Navjeet Bal of Social Finance, Tyler Jaeckel of the Harvard Kennedy School Government Performance Lab, David Merriman of Cuyahoga County, OH, and Fraser Nelson of Sorenson Impact Center discussed how the PFS process drives sustained partnerships among a variety of individuals and organizations whose unique relationships within the context of PFS can herald larger systems change.  

Partnering helps bring and keep diverse stakeholders to the table, which can promote lasting commitments to breaking down silos and better serve vulnerable populations.  

We already know that it is important to engage government officials as championsbring on evaluators early, and work closely with PFS intermediaries. But one of the unsung advantages of PFS is its value in opening, and sustaining, lines of communication between entities that typically do not collaborate. It’s the unique mix of government; service providers, private and public; investors, for-profit and nonprofit; evaluators; and intermediaries that foster new ways of collaborationestablish cross-silo infrastructure, and share resources that will change the status quo of service delivery. These unique partnerships help establish data integration that goes beyond the project timeframe, put evaluation at the forefront of government operations, and initiate working groups committed to seeing change broader than a single project’s potential. Even if the deal doesn’t advance, the use of PFS as the mechanism that creates these channels for dialogue is tremendously importantas the lasting partnerships made set the groundwork for future change in providing social services. 

Both service beneficiaries and the wider community are crucial partners in the PFS process.

PFS aims to improve outcomes for people and communities, so while there are several stakeholders involved in a PFS projectboth the immediate beneficiaries and the greater community should be valued partners in the process. Their stories need to drive the project, particularly it expresses the voice of typically marginalized populations. As Nelson said, we need to remember, “The benefit occurs to the person the promise has been made to.”  

Community buy-in is just as important. Engaging with the community and including them in the project will provide the public support needed for sustained change. For instance, in Salt Lake County, where the community’s resources were being used to develop the newest PFS projects, the county sheriff served as liaison to the community to advocate for the value of the investment. The PFS projects were going to increases taxes for members of the community, so it was important to make the case to them of the value of funding programs to improve homelessness and recidivism. 

To create effective partnerships, it is critical that stakeholders understand their role in the process, and the roles of their partners.  

Each stakeholder plays an important role, and their added value drives the PFS process. Stakeholders should not only understand their own role in the process, but also the roles of their partners. For instance, funder organizations know the motivations behind investing in PFS, but less about how the project gets operationalized. Therefore, drawing on each stakeholder’s strengths and creating defined roles in project planning and implementation is key in PFS partnerships 

In thinking about the contributions each partner makes in the PFS process, Merriman notedthe deal is never doneThis level of commitment to continual project improvement and active performance management is what encourages partnership as the cornerstone of PFS, and is what will usher in larger systems change. The journey is as important as the result, and as Jaeckel reflected, “There is something about this framework that keeps people at the table.”    

This is the fifth 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 next several months, the Initiative will be releasing a series of blogs highlighting important conversations, themes, and questions that arose during the Symposium. To join the conversation, visit pfs.urban.orgfollow @UrbanPFSI and #FutureofPFS on Twitter, and subscribe to our monthly newsletter.

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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.