Urban Institute
Policy Program Manager
Urban Institute
Training and Technical Assistance Manager

A tool to help assess your potential SIPPRA readiness

February 19, 2019 - 9:06am

Welcome back to SIPPRA week!

With just over 66 million in federal funds soon available via the Social Impact Partnership to Pay for Results Act (SIPPRA), communities across the country are considering whether they and their partners can put together a strong, eligible social impact project. For more information on the recently released SIPPRA Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA), check out yesterday’s blog post.

What makes for a strong social impact project?

To help sites answer this question, Urban’s Pay for Success Project Assessment Tool (PAT) provides a scoring rubric that draws from our research and experience with stakeholders in the field to identify core elements of successful projects. The US Department of Treasury will assign panels of subject matter experts to review SIPPRA applications. The experts will be selected based on their knowledge of the relevant social benefit(s) or problem(s) being addressed, expertise in the type of proposed intervention, experience working with the potential target population, or other considerations. The applications will be scored according to the following criteria: value of and savings from the project (15 points), likelihood of achieving outcomes (50 points), quality of evaluation (30 points), and capacity and commitment to sustain the intervention (5 points). Although these experts may evaluate some project design factors differently than we do in the PAT, our experience suggests these qualities are important in identifying a well-designed project.

How the PAT works

The PAT is designed for government officials and advisors, public agency leadership, program managers, service providers, and others who are interested in exploring whether pay for success (PFS) could be a good fit for their community. To note, PFS is called out as synonymous to pay for results in the SIPPRA NOFA. Completing the PAT helps identify areas for further attention, encourages conversations among project partners on key questions, and can help build the business case for a proposed project.

The PAT presents questions that partners should ask themselves about their project, grouped around six major components: defining the problem, identifying a strong solution, selecting a capable service provider, securing sufficient politicaland bureaucratic support, aligning the various project elements and interests, and ensuring the project can be rigorously evaluated.

To demonstrate how the PAT is structured, let’s use the first component, problem definition, as an example. Solutions should respond to problems, not the other way around. Although this seems intuitive, many well-intentioned projects identify an interesting intervention and attempt to shoehorn it into a place to address a problem that either doesn’t exist or that isn’t an appropriate match for the solution.

That’s why the very first step we recommend is to use data strategically to identify a clear problem in the community. Everything flows from that action. Once partners identify the problem, they should use that same (and additional) data to take the following steps:

  1. Identify a clear target population. Together, with data on the problem, this information helps paint a detailed picture of a place, its challenges, and the people most affected.
  2. Understand baseline spending and envision the project’s goal(s). Use data to illustrate current costs of addressing (or failing to adequately address) the problem and to help partners identify the types of aspirational outcomes they would like to achieve for the target population and wider community.  

The PAT takes this straightforward and logical approach through subsequent sections, reflecting the tool’s purpose: to serve as an accessible guide that facilitates conversations among project partners. To this end, each question is paired with a scoring guide and explanation for why the question is important. Sections offer advice on how a site can improve its score in an area and a summary to help identify areas of strength and areas for improvement.

Limitations of the PAT in the context of SIPPRA

The PAT will not tell a site whether it should launch a PFS project or apply for SIPPRA funds, whether that project will ultimately be successful, or whether the project’s benefits will outweigh the costs. Data-informed conversations, political and budgetary realities, and other tools such as cost-benefit analyses, can aid in answering those questions.  Notably, the PAT was created before SIPPRA’s NOFA was released and does not account for all its requirements. In particular, the PAT does not address how to demonstrate federal savings and increased federal revenues as a result of a PFS project, but these elements are key to receiving SIPPRA outcomes payments.

What the PAT does is provide a solid starting point for grounding conversations in recommendations based on the experience of past PFS efforts and highlighting key PFS principles. Not only is the PAT a valuable tool for communities considering SIPPRA, but also those seeking to instill evidence-based policymaking into public practice more broadly.

Tomorrow, this blog series will feature a deeper dive into two major components of any SIPPRA application for outcomes funding: evaluation design and cost considerations. Thursday’s blog post will highlight the resources available in our early childhood education toolkit, given SIPPRA’s focus on outcomes related to children, Friday’s will outline the role of the US Commission on Social Impact Partnerships and the Interagency Council, and finally, the blog series will wrap up next week with an explanation of how the Urban Institute can help sites looking to apply to SIPPRA. Also join us for a webinar on Thursday, February 28, to learn more about these new federal funding opportunities for PFS projects. Our team will review key takeaways from the SIPPRA NOFA and answer your questions about PFS.

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 Infogram.