Written By Georg Neumann, 28 Sep 2016

Schools, hospitals, streets and, for me, bike lanes: This is where citizens want their money to go. How does a government department make sure it gets the best company to provide what it needs for the best value? How can a business know what a government buys, and when?

When we started with the idea of open contracting, we knew we had to make sure these different needs were addressed, and to understand “who, what, where, when, and how” a government spends its money.

But transparency and openness is only half of the story. It is about creating a better, fairer and open process from planning to delivery. In a way, like tracking a package when doing your online shopping: you want to receive what you bought intact, at the expected delivery time – and it can be quite satisfying to see when your package leaves the storage facility. Government contracting is obviously much more complex, but the same principle of reducing any nasty surprises from the process applies.

For this, we’ve developed the Open Contracting Data Standard, a schema that describes the information and documents for the full process of government contracting that should be readily available for anyone to access. Whether to investigate corruption or find the most relevant bid, you will need to connect different types of data to draw meaningful conclusions. The Standard is designed with four key users in mind: value for money, detecting fraud and corruption, fairer competition, and monitoring service delivery.  

Open contracting has seen a huge wave of commitment and implementation since the 2015 IODC in Canada. I want to briefly share with you five innovations that have surfaced over the last year.

1) Fighting corruption and restoring trust

Ukraine has been known for widespread corruption and cronyism. It’s not surprising then that addressing these risks is at the center of Prozorro, the country’s new public procurement system, built on open contracting. Beyond uncovering fraud and waste, a crucial objective of Prozorro is to restore the trust of businesses, who had long given up even participating in government tenders.

This open source e-procurement platform, which is modeled on the Open Contracting Data Standard, provides access to a centralized, dynamic database so that other firms can offer additional services to the private sector, tailored to its specific needs. Thanks to this innovative, open process, participation by companies in public tenders has risen by 30-50%.

Advert promoting Prozorro

Advert promoting Prozorro

2) Connecting cross-national data

OpenOpps is a platform that pulls in, shares and analyzes tender data from across Europe. While this repository of open contracting data can be used to investigate fraud and irregularities, it also serves as a commercial website that helps businesses find opportunities to trade with government. As of July 2016, it has collected a quarter of a million documents from across the globe (800,000 records from 180 countries).

3) Tracking education and health services

When Seember Nyager and her team at the Public Private Development Centre in Nigeria looked at the government’s basic services, they realized they not only had to look at the budget, but also how money was being spent through contracts. Connecting these two datasets was crucial to understanding what was happening in service delivery. A fascinating investigation ensued (see here) – and Budeshi, a Hausa word for “open it” – was born. This open source, Nigerian-developed open contracting platform, has helped to convince the government of the benefits open contracting and led it to commit to implementing the Data Standard. Organizations in Kenya and Malawi are now looking at using Budeshi as well.

4) Opening up public-private partnerships

Public Private Partnerships are one of the tools governments use to tackle bigger projects and investments, often large – and challenging – infrastructure such as roads, bridges and airports. These projects last decades, not years, and have to deal with many risks throughout their lifetime. Given the high level of complexity, it is essential to have a structure for effectively tracking the progress of these projects, as well as transparency. In Mexico, the Ministry of Communications and Transport has started disclosing information and documents on Red Compartida, the country’s largest PPP project, which is set to create a shared 4G telecoms network.

5) A closer feedback loop

Cities are where an administration’s spending is nearest to the needs of citizens. What are your kids being fed at school? Does the public transport network work? It’s no surprise that cities, eager to show what’s being done for their communities and to generate opportunities for business, are excited about the potential to create more transparency around contracts. Mexico City has been the first to implement the Standard, from contract planning to implementation, and has started publishing contracts from its finance department. In working with civil society, Mexico City has identified more information needs. Montreal, driven by major corruption scandals, has launched a visualization platform to explore its contract data. It’s encouraging to see Buenos Aires looking into publishing contracting data from the Argentine capital as well.

 

The field of open contracting implementers is growing, and spreading globally. Hopefully, these examples have given you some ideas for how open contracting can be useful for you and your area of work. Our helpdesk is there to help anyone who’s interested (shoot them a message at data [at] open-contracting.org).

We look forward to discussing these and examples from Albania, Canada, Colombia, France, Kosovo, Moldova, Paraguay, Spain, the US, Vietnam, Zambia and others at our IODC session on October 4, Open Contracting: Progress, Challenges, Innovation. (Register here to not miss out) and throughout the variety of panels and sessions during the week.

Do you know what your government is spending its money on?

Update: to reflect that OpenOpps data is global, not only from Europe.