Social impact bonds or Whānau Ora commissioning agencies: which is more likely to improve indigenous outcomes?

Stream: Indigenous policy
Date: Monday, 9 September 2019
Time: 1.30 pm – 3.10 pm


The New Zealand National-led government (2008-2017) is notable for its experimentation with performance payments and non-government funders for social services. These policy models assume that stronger financial incentives and private investment are necessary to improve social outcomes, particularly amongst indigenous Māori.

This paper examines two such models:
1) the commissioning agencies that make funding decisions on behalf of the state as part of a broader Whānau Ora strategy and receive performance payments if certain outcome levels are achieved Māori families; and
2) the social impact bond trial that involves for-profit organisations funding mental health services for the unemployed, while non-government organisations deliver the services needed.
Although not explicitly targeting Māori, the sites for and focus of this trial mean Māori are disproportionately targeted. Service providers receive performance payments and funders receive returns on investment if outcomes are significantly improved.

Drawing on government documents, independent reviews and media reportage, the paper provides a qualitative analysis of the financial and temporal costs and benefits associated with these new ways of delivering social services, as well as the practical issues of implementation. The evidence available suggests that the Whānau Ora commissioning agencies demonstrate far more potential to improve indigenous peoples, given they offer greater level of indigenous control over the funding process, although problems with implementation remain. These findings are relevant for Australia, where experiments with both social impact bonds and commissioning agencies are in play.


Louise Humpage (Presenter), University of Auckland
Dr Louise Humpage is an Associate Professor in Sociology at the University of Auckland. She has written extensively on indigenous affairs policy, welfare reform, citizenship, refugee policy and settlement and attitudes to the welfare state.