Social impact finance

Impact investing and the shift towards measurement and behaviorism in the United Kingdom’s social policy making

PhD project of Manuel Wirth

Funding: Swiss National Science Foundation (
Project duration: September 2016 – August 2020.
Ph.D. Committee: Christian Berndt, Norman Backhaus, Jane Pollard

Abstract: This project investigates the rising importance of alternative funding schemes for the third sector in the United Kingdom in the light of austerity politics, advancing neoliberalization of welfare and the financialization of poverty alleviation. Social policy innovations such as impact investing or financial instruments like Social Impact Bonds draw on financial market actors as new funding sources and delivery partners for social organizations. By introducing market logics, entrepreneurial mindsets and financial valuation techniques in to the third sector, the government aims to make social service delivery more efficient and cost-effective. In this context, measurement devices, outcome metrics and experimental trials play a crucial role in order to evaluate the quality of social interventions.

The aim of this project is to shed light on the effects of these financial innovations on the way social welfare is addressed by third sector organizations. More concretely, it explores how financial valuation techniques, measurement and the drive towards “hard evidence” unroll on the ground and how they affect organizational practices, support workers and beneficiaries of social interventions. In my empirical case, I look at a group of Social Impact Bond-funded charities in the field of youth homelessness and unemployment where I conducted semi-structured interviews with support worker and beneficiaries, and participant observation. The thesis builds on a conceptual framework that involves a geographies of marketization approach (Berndt & Boeckler, 2012) as well as theoretical literature on the political economy of variegated neoliberalism (Peck & Tickell, 2007)

Master Theses

·      Remo Niklaus (ongoing) Social Impact Bonds und Impact Investing in der Schweiz

·      Manuel Wirth (2015). Architecture and logic of a new social policy intervention in the context of neoliberalism: Social Impact Bonds