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Monitoring COVID-19 emergency procurement with data

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Find our full recommendations and resources on our dedicated COVID-19 page.

During the current COVID-19 crisis, governments around the world are rushing to procure goods, works and services to control the spread of the virus and treat patients.

Whether they are using e-procurement platforms or paper-based procedures, a lot of valuable information is generated in the process that could be used for monitoring, improving efficiency or informing the public about how public money is being spent.

In a previous post, we advocate having transparent, open, accountable and, whenever possible, data-driven procurement practices during this global emergency. 

In this blog, we want to share some guidance on what types of questions you can ask to monitor COVID-19 procurement, what data fields are useful and what to do if open data is not available. 

What can you look for?

Analyzing emergency procurement is not that different to monitoring procurement in other contexts. First, choose your focus. You can either decide to concentrate on a particular topic related to the emergency, like the purchase of respirators, or explore the big picture.  

During this emergency, governments need to procure multiple goods and services to address the crisis, contain the outbreak and treat patients. This might involve multiple agencies within the government buying things such as medical equipment, medicines, infrastructure for hospitals or security services. This means finding all the contracts related to the crisis can be tricky. To make the information easy for people to understand, it can be helpful if government agencies put all these procedures into one place. A great example is the Ukrainian government’s business intelligence tool that has a specific module to show all the COVID-19 related emergency procurement, and includes information such as the name of items, the price per item, terms, supplier, etc.  

We’ve drafted step-by-step guidance on how to access and analyze Ukraine’s COVID-19 dashboard here. 

Another example comes from Colombia’s National Health Institute. Although it is awarding contracts directly, it is asking for quotes and delivery times for its COVID-19 test and lab supplies procurement. The institute discloses not only tender data and information but all the technical comments received from potential suppliers. 

If you’re a journalist or a CSO interested in monitoring, first do some reporting with the government to understand how to identify COVID-19 procurement processes in procurement portals or contracting datasets. You can also try to focus on particular items specific to the emergency; for instance, the Chilean government published a list in xls of the urgent  items they needed to buy, which can help you narrow down the search.   

Once you find the contracts you were looking for, start asking questions. First look at the basics: which agencies are buying, what items are being procured, when, and how much is being spent. This can give you an idea on how the government is managing the emergency and if there are enough supplies. Then you can explore which suppliers are providing the goods and services and, if contracts weren’t directly awarded, who were the competitors. Exploring the networks of suppliers can be interesting to see not only who are the biggest providers and if they have connections, but also to identify possible risks in the supply chain.  

Moreover, remember that unfortunately emergencies can increase the risk of corruption,  so it is important to look for suspicious patterns. Are governments buying urgent items for a reasonable price? In emergencies, a lot of the contracting processes might not be competitive, and this can lead to overpricing, so it is relevant to look for price differences in similar items. For instance, you can try to look at the average price the government paid for specific items  (hospital masks, disinfectant, etc) before the crisis and compare it to the current price. Finally, timeliness is key during a crisis. If implementation data is available, you can analyze if the items were delivered on time or track regional patterns of service and goods delivery.  

If you want more inspiration on metrics you can calculate, you can check our public procurement indicators guide and our red flags methodology

What data is useful?

To answer all the above questions on procurement in emergencies, you need certain data fields.  Some data fields can be more useful than others. For instance, tracking prices in the different stages of the process is relevant, if there were changes from planning to the delivery of the contract. Here are some key data fields you can look for in each stage of the procurement process, based on the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS). Even if the data is not published in the OCDS format, you can check the local government dataset to see if those data fields are there under a different name.

PlanningBudget amount
Note: For emergency contracts planning might not happen
TenderTender titleTender descriptionTender statusProcuring entityItems to be procuredTender valueProcurement methodTender period start and end dateNumber of tenderersTenderers
AwardAward titleAward descriptionAward  statusAward valueAward dateSuppliersAward items descriptionAward items value
ContractContract titleContract descriptionContract period start and end dateContract valueItems contractedAmendments
ImplementationMilestones (delivery)

If you need more detail on what data to publish, check our new guide to collect, publish and visualize procurement data.

What to do if open data is not available?

If open, structured, downloadable and machine readable data is not available, you can build your own dataset based on information from procurement websites, freedom of information requests or even paper documents.  But it’s important that you structure it correctly. The Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) fields can help you map the data; check these field mapping templates (EN/ES) for guidance.

If you need to input the data manually from paper documents, an easy way to generate the spreadsheet is using Google Forms, adding the data fields as questions. That way multiple users can upload the data at the same time, without having to work on different documents. If you want, you can convert this data to a JSON format using our Data review tool.  

A good example of this is the journalism project “Los contratos del desastre” (Contracts from the disaster), by Poder in México and El Intercambio in Guatemala, which analyzed public procurement in the wake of natural disasters. Here they explain how they mapped unstructured procurement data to the OCDS.

Are you exploring procurement data related to COVID-19?  Do you need help with your analysis? Reach out to our helpdesk at we want to hear about your projects!

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