Hard as it may be to believe, open contracting didn’t exist as a coherent field of practice a few years ago. Of course, many of the norms and practices have been around for decades, but there was little coordinated action or space for development among those working and advocating for more openness in public procurement—until a few global meetings in 2012 pulled together a range of organizations that recognized the potential of a framework for common understanding and practice. Those meetings, and the passion and enthusiasm of those early visionaries, led to the Open Contracting Partnership as we know it.
One consequence of this relative youth of both the OCP and the field of open contracting itself is that we have much to learn. New projects are underway in different institutional and legal contexts, leveraging various technology solutions, and with a range of stakeholders from civil society and elsewhere. Every one of these projects has lessons to teach us and one another as the practice of open contracting continues to develop.
We chose to embrace this opportunity as a core part of our 2015-2018 strategy: learning and evidence are critical to our broader goals of building global norms and strengthening on-the-ground implementation of open contracting. We have expanded on traditional monitoring and evaluation functions to ensure that they involve more than data collection and academic research. Our goal is to tie these approaches closely to learning.
Because being a “learning organization” is a bit of a fad and “learning” is itself a buzzword, we’ve taken the time in recent months to define clearly what we mean by developing our Learning Plan. We’ve erred on the side of over-structuring our learning, with a framework of topics, actors, practices, and systems. It is a conscious decision to ensure it meaningfully aligns our various learning activities to our theory of change, helping us adapt and improve.
- Actors: At the core of this framework is the idea that learning is always done by someone and that we (as the OCP’s staff) are not the only learners in this system. Our process to create this framework started with a workshop to define the learning users: the various internal and external actors who have data and lessons to provide, or data and learning needs, that our learning systems can help to match. These users—the actors in our learning systems—include us, our consultants, and advisory board; but also: national-level advocates for open contracting, technology implementers, data users, academic researchers, partners at global organisations like the World Bank or Hivos, and many others. [Table 3 from learning plan]
- Topics: These are the issues we need to cover in order to move this open contracting field forward. Some relate to open contracting as a whole (such as the legal and policy frameworks that enable open contracting, or the benefits of open contracting such as market fairness) while other topics are focused on the organisation itself (like progress toward our strategic and organizational goals). [Table 1 from learning plan.]
- Practices: The tools in our learning kit include the classic tools of M&E like indicators, data collection, and analysis. Those typically feed in multi-stakeholder reflections that bring diverse perspectives together to draw insights, as well as communications and social media channels that share lessons broadly and draw others into the conversation. Of course, our organizational culture and human resource practices are also critically important to fostering learning.
These three components of our framework—actors, topics, and practices—combine to form our concrete learning systems where our learning approach comes to life. We’ll come back to describe these systems in more detail in a later post.
Our process for gathering insights and lessons from our work is something we are delighted to share with anyone interested in taking a similar approach. We developed our learning systems based on our belief that using simple, carefully designed, and well-integrated spaces for collaborative reflection is critical to ensuring that what we do adds up to something transformative.
We hope this framework will be useful not only for us, but also for everyone we work with and who is working on open contracting.
Our learning plan is an evolving framework. What are we missing? We’d love to get your thoughts!
On the authors: Dave Algoso is a consultant in the international development and social impact sectors. He has been supporting the Open Contracting Partnership team on learning, monitoring, and evaluation.