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Taiwan’s challenge: Making contracting smarter with data

11 Nov 2016

By Chia-Kai Liu

How do you make government procurement smarter? That’s the question data lovers in Taiwan are currently tackling, as they take part in the Smart Contracting Data Challenge. Working in groups of up to five people, participants are drawing on contracting data to explore new ways to improve procurement processes and transform the government’s centralized procurement marketplace, where goods and services are purchased, to help stimulate the economy.

As the event’s organizers, we at the data consulting firm DSP, asked participants to focus on two areas:

  1. Develop a “procurement chatbot” – a computer program that converses with suppliers and buyers, helping them to navigate the complicated layers of procurement regulations and procedures. The program will draw on datasets that include more than 3000 structured FAQs as well as relevant laws and regulations. If successful, the chatbot will be used as a customer service tool to help reduce the workload of the Public Construction Commission, the government agency responsible for Taiwan’s procurement regulations and big infrastructure projects.
  2. Use historical awards data, compiled in a schema compatible with the Open Contracting Data Standard, to come up with innovative ideas to help Taiwan’s more than 6,000 government buyers and 56,000 suppliers find the best partners for their procurement deals.

Before kicking off the challenge, we got together for a seminar in October, where we talked about how to analyse government procurement data in auditing and for business research purposes. We also heard from someone who already has experience with developing chatbots.  

The aim of the challenge isn’t to win. Rather, we want to foster sharing and learning, so we’re holding co-working sessions and using the group chat platform Slack to facilitate better communication and collaboration.

And we’re lucky to have several procurement experts standing by to help participants who are skilled with data analysis and programming, but might not have a good understanding of government contracting.

The event is part of a multi-stakeholder collaboration. We have support from the central government, through the Public Construction Commission, and the local government, represented by the Department of Information Technology in Taipei City. Our co-organizers are the Industrial Technology Research Institute and D4SG – a “data for social good” community with an impressive track record of analyzing data to solve social problems. The Open Contracting Partnership has also been a huge help, reducing the time it took us to design a concise data schema.

We can’t wait to see what our contestants will produce, and expect to unveil their creations in January. In the meantime, you can find out more about the data challenge here (in Chinese).