Being results or outcome focused is certainly not new to nonprofits. Being results-focused is not that new to the public sector either although the consequences for failure may not, in the past, have been as severe as for nonprofits.
At the same time it's very true that it is much more practical to document and report short-term results than it is longitudinally-based results. No matter, the push is on to up the ante in accountability and this is being best exhibited in what the Rockefeller Foundation is supporting in the form of social-impact bonds. Simply put, the investors/nonprofits take all the, particularly financial, risks and if there is success, there is a financial reward. If there is failure, the government wins with no payout.
This approach is basically raising the level of what performance-based payments mean and it maybe also opens the field of providers to include the for-profit vendors who are focused more on money than mission. But results are results and one maybe has to assume that when the government says x result is in the best interest of the public, it has the right to pursue that result in multiple ways.
For the moment what is bothering me a bit is that the Rockefeller Foundation and others, as reported in the Wall Street Journal are viewing this social impact bond idea as a key to achieving social change. On the one hand, I am in agreement with Rockefeller that steps to improve efficiency by providers (be it the government or nonprofits) can improve results. On the other hand, true social change is not as much about producing results as much as changing the conditions that lead to the problems or challenges the public and nonprofit providers may be addressing.
For example, I believe that the fundamental issue with keeping offenders from returning to jail has more to do with the social issues and environment that resulted in these offenders ending up in jail in the first place. Change the fundamental conditions -- change the number of people in jail. Are social impact bonds really going to focus efforts on the root cause of the probelms they seek to address, on real social change?