Blog

The role of infomediaries in improving efficiency, transparency and accountability in public contracting

5 Oct 2017

By Daniel Dietrich, Hivos

Governments worldwide spend an estimated US$ 9.5 trillion on public contracting. Contracting is an essential step in the delivery of goods and services that people care about: good public education, quality health care, safe roads and clean drinking water. However, public contracting processes are complex and vulnerable to bad planning, mismanagement, fraud, and corruption.  Through open contracting data and documents about the entire contracting process are made available following the Open Contracting Data Standard: from the planning phase to tendering, and from contracting to implementation. Reformers in Governments around the world have started implementing open contracting.

At the same time, civil society organizations (CSOs) are an essential part of the change process, playing key roles in the planning phase, as well as in monitoring implementation. They monitor government public works, investigate misuse and corruption, and gather and translate contracting data and information into actionthey are ‘infomediaries.’ Infomediaries include CSOs, journalists, entrepreneurs, startups and other frontline organizations. 

Hivos and ARTICLE 19’s Open Up Contracting programme

Last year, we launched The Open Up Contracting programme of Hivos and ARTICLE 19 is a five-year programme (2016-2020) within the Strategic Partnership of Dialogue and Dissent with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands. The programme aims to make public contracting more efficient, transparent and accountable by saving money and time, improving public service delivery, boosting integrity and creating a fairer business environment.

The programme supports infomediaries in seven selected focus countriesGuatemala, Indonesia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, the Philippines, and Boliviato more robustly and actively engage in the open contracting agenda. Through the programme, we’ll  develop the capacities infomediary CSOs need to access, analyze and translate complex contracting data and documents into actionable information for evidence-based advocacy with their respective governments. We’ve just announced our partners and their projects.

What do we want to achieve in the long-term? We have three goals: 1) governments increase the transparency of their public spending; 2) non-state actors participate and engage citizens in the planning, procurement and monitoring of public contracting; and 3) accountability mechanisms are created for receiving and acting upon citizen feedback.

Added value

Open contracting is a relatively new approach and as of today, there are only a limited number of use cases. This is where our Open Up Contracting programme can add value to the international agenda: we will support local partners in creating tangible use cases that showcase the social and economic benefits of open contracting in the context of a country. We are hoping that the lessons we’ll learn from applying different strategies and approaches can support others in the field.

How we are going to support local partners

The actual contents, size, and scope of each comprehensive support package will be tailor-made to the needs of our partners, based on an initial capacity assessment that is done collaboratively by Hivos and the partner and repeated each year. The programme follows an iterative approach where partner organizations can apply to move from one phase of the programme to the next if their projects are ambitious and have a long-term vision.

The types of support can include:

  • Support on project design
  • Refinement of project proposals
  • Advice on the organizational approach to strategy, technology, data and lobby & advocacy
  • Capacity development via training and workshops based on identified capacity gaps
  • Mentorship during the entire process of design, implementation, evaluation, and documentation of project
  • Expert advice and external support on tech and data
  • Networking & matchmaking, including facilitating dialogue with governments and other stakeholders
  • Brokering of national and regional accountability coalitions
  • Coordination of action research on research questions developed by partner organizations
  • Small-scale financial support in the form of seed funding plus advice on fundraising

Reflections thus far

As a first reflection, I can say that our programmatic approach to supporting infomediaries, the partnership model, and the support package have all been well received and echoed at international events including last year’s International Open Data Conference in Madrid and the Open Government Partnership Global Summit in Paris. Our international partners and governments recognize and welcome the support for the demand side of contracting data as complementary to the efforts supporting the supply side.

Our kick-off workshops offered a real rich learning experience for all participants. While many of the partners were familiar with Theory of Change and project development methodologies, all of them were surprised by the hands-on and interactive approach. As a result, most partners changed their project proposals quite significantly, making them more specific, more thorough and, in many cases, more realistic and smaller in scope. Last but not least, our partners appreciated the emphasis on risk assessment and management, since safety and security concerns are often not addressed in the capacity development of human right defenders.

Finally, we learned that most partner organizations are new to the concept of open contracting and have a limited understanding of the actual contracting processes in their countries. Hence, the first phase of the programme will be heavy on capacity development and sensitization of stakeholders, as well as on mapping the entry points for engagement, current procurement processes, and availability and quality of data.

We are looking forward to bringing all our partners together to our first ever Open Contacting Global Summit. On the day after the summit, we will organize our first learning event with all partners to look back and analyze the first phase of the partnership to inform how to shape our collaboration in 2018 and beyond.  

I am very excited about the opportunity to work together with such brilliant minds on such an important agenda for social change.