In my efforts to promulgate Social Policy Bonds I’ve usually emphasised their efficiency, which arises from a number of sources, including their harnessing of market forces, and their diversity and capacity to adapt to changing circumstances. I’ve also stressed their transparency: because the bonds target outcomes, people understand them more.
This, in turn, means another hugely important benefit: buy-in. If people understand what a policy is all about, they can participate more in its development, refinement and implementation. A Social Policy Bond regime would express its goals as outcomes that are meaningful to real people. Such outcomes would be more comprehensible to more people than the current unstated or unconsidered, vague, or platitudinous goals that characterise current policymaking. Discussion about outcomes, rather than the alleged means of achieving them, would be more accessible. If people have the chance of participating in such discussion, they will understand the limitations and trade-offs that are intrinsic to public policymaking. This means quite a few things, but to my mind the most important is buy-in: the reconnection of citizens with their policymakers; the sharing of responsibility and concern for policy initiatives.
This matters hugely when government has to rein in activities to which we have become accustomed, in the face of new threats. I am thinking of climate change specifically, where we need a coherent response to an unforeseen but urgent challenge. Of course buy-in would be desirable in other areas too. The current system discourages buy-in, partly because our societies are so complex, that virtually any effect – good or bad – can be plausibly traced back to virtually any cause. And partly because political debate, centred as it is on arcane legal argument or stultifying discussion of institutional funding or structures, contributes so much to the widening gap between politicians and the people they are supposed to represent. Social Policy Bonds, because of their focus on outcomes, would help close that gap.