Happy New Year!
We felt we closed out 2021 in a pretty good place. We saw a surge in scale with more impact and progress and a higher level endorsement of the principles of open contracting than ever before, notably at the G7 and UN General Assembly Special Session on Corruption. We refreshed our strategy to focus even more on the real outcomes and impacts from procurement reform  — better public services and a fairer public market — and just about met our new stretch targets. We saw significant growth in engagement in North America, Africa, and Asia, catching up with the crackling energy of the community in Latin America, Europe and Central Asia. With 60 Open Contracting Data Standard publishers, last year’s number doubled.
We know that to reach a tipping point towards embedding open contracting as the norm for how governments do business, we need to grow, diversify and empower the global open contracting community.
So, to benchmark our progress, we reached out to newer members of our growing community for our annual survey, targeting a better gender balance and wider diversity in respondents, making sure to include voices directly from the front lines of change.
As ever, our community gives back to us in abundance. We had over 400 responses (nearly twice last year), a great gender balance (nearly 50:50) and, of all survey respondents, with local and national civil society seeing the highest increase.
Long story short, we had some cold water poured on us. While we have higher scores for OCP as an organization than ever before, we were also reminded of how much we have left to do and where we can improve. We asked a much harder question in our survey to check if partners now felt confident about going it alone to drive further reforms and achieve their goals. And the answer was a resounding “not yet.”
To explain: we scored our highest ever net promoter score when we asked “would you recommend working with OCP?” (86 out of 100, improving ever slightly on an already high score last year) and when we asked “do you feel more capable of doing open contracting work in the coming year?”, we received an average of 7.4 out of 10. But when we asked “how confident would you feel in achieving your open contracting goals with less OCP support in the coming year?”, we received a significantly lower average score of 5.9 (out of 10): only one out of four respondents gave us a high score of over 8. So we are adding value and building capacity but not enough confidence and empowerment for partners to go it alone yet.
As we build a bigger community and reach out to new places, especially where a culture of user-centred design of public services is still very new, we expect a call for increased support. At the same time though, we don’t want to lose sight of the importance of building a global community of change, not being that community, so it matters that we equip reformers with the confidence and skills to drive change independently.
We will be following this blog with a much more detailed analysis of our feedback survey next week but we wanted to ‘fess up and own that challenge right at the start of the year.
So, what will we do in ‘22 to not only support but empower reformers?
Here are some initial ideas. We anticipated some of these in our strategy refresh (no big surprise as it was also driven by community consultations) but your feedback has really helped define the need and highlight the urgency of them.
1) Get back out there
Frankly, we think everyone is tired of webinars and virtual events. Team OCP is itching to get back out in the world, to co-work and reconnect with partners. There is nothing like being personally present to hear first-hand what you need, work through challenges side-by-side, and build alliances to drive change.
We are obviously keeping a close eye on the pandemic, but hope to be able to host a few regional gatherings safely in the coming year and deepen the connections among fellow procurement enthusiasts in your part of the world.
2) Locally root change and support from OCP
We saw how our Africa community took off last year, nurtured by our new African team members. We are delighted to announce that we will be joined next month by a new Head of Africa to lead our work and support our thriving community across the continent (Edwin Muhumuza, currently a director of the Public Procurement and Assets Disposal Authority in Uganda). In addition, we now have team members in Asia (Nanda Sihombing in Indonesia) and in the U.S. focused on domestic reforms (Reilly Martin based on the West Coast).
3) Tailor support directly to your priorities
When we asked about your highest capacity-building priorities for the new year, you told us that data analysis and use and advocacy remain key, with social impact growing in importance. This is an important validation of the shifts we anticipated in our support model in our recent strategy refresh.
On advocacy, we will be launching a pilot of a refreshed advocacy support, including more training and rapid-response financial support to emerging opportunities that will help embed open contracting reforms in law and practice. We’ve taken on board feedback from the community around the biggest barriers you face in building political will and riding the waves of election cycles and shifts in citizen priorities, and the tailored 1:1 coworking you want to overcome these. We will be holding a community call on 16 February to share our plans and to hear your feedback — keep an eye out for the invitation later this month.
On e-procurement, we are keen to meet the demand for better guidance, tools and support. We have started with a research project focused on the African context and will be fundraising in order to deliver a robust and comprehensive e-procurement support program by 2023.
On civic monitoring, we are working on projects to implement civic monitoring programs in Paraguay, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, and Kazakhstan. We will share the methodologies, tools and templates developed for reuse by the wider field.
In our expanded second generation of Lift, we are taking on more teams pursuing equity and sustainability goals. And we’re working with many more to incorporate social impact into their anti-corruption efforts so that we go beyond compliance alone to truly improve outcomes for citizens.
Overall, we are recognizing that holistic support is needed to get reforms to impact. So, we will be integrating the Lift approach across our engagements, so that partners can receive sustained support up to and including achievement of their goals. In this new model, data support will not be focused on implementation of OCDS alone, but focused on ultimate objectives of using data to achieve results. We are already testing some approaches in Lift (El Paso, Texas) but also in our engagement with Long Beach, California.
4) Putting out even more useful resources
As the field grows, we won’t be able to deliver 1:1 support to everyone. That’s why it is so important that we put out excellent documentation, guides, tools and templates that the open contracting community can feel empowered to use themselves to achieve their goals.
The community told us that they find our resources useful but the scores weren’t as enthusiastic as they were before. So, in 2022, we want to make sure we are getting this right and going large with resources that will be game changing. For example, we are putting the finishing touches to a global data registry which will allow people to find and download data from any OCDS publisher, creating one of the largest databases of public procurement data globally (and as regularly requested by users). The registry will integrate with a new “flatten tool” so that users can access the data in spreadsheet formats to get better and faster access to what they need.
We noted a hunger for accessible advice on green/sustainable procurement and we will be working hard to meet that need in a user-friendly tools and approaches too in ‘22.
5) Doubling down on empowerment vs capacity building
We will now plan for a root-and-branch review of our overall support model to understand how we can better structure a holistic support package around the diverse areas of capacity building that you want to see from us in the coming year. Expect a refresh in Q2 of this year.
We are thinking hard about ways to provide more self-guided learning tools and exploring how we can improve our data support model so we’ve appreciated your great feedback.
We will also trial a new Open Contracting School approach with a structured learning curriculum and support for implementation based on a pilot that has been getting great reviews from our partners in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
Our Lithuanian and Ukrainian colleagues have a New Year tradition of ice bathing. You take the plunge, it’s a shock initially, but you come out focused and maybe even a little purified.
That’s how we feel about our 2021 feedback survey. We are glad we took the plunge to get more diverse views than ever before and to ask tougher questions.
Your input has freshened and focused us for the year ahead: it’s game on for open, fairer and better public spending in 2022!
Impact is when we see a measurable market level impact and an improvement in outcomes from government procurement and contracting. In 2021, we documented four impact stories, about how open contracting was improving health care in Chile, Ukraine and Moldova and delivering transformational infrastructure for the City of Buenos Aires through BA Obras. To give an example, twice as many HIV patients were being treated in Ukraine for the same budget by better procurement of drugs and services in collaboration with patients’ groups. A progress story is when we see the early shoots of potential impact (i.e. early outcomes and outputs that may scale). In 2021, we saw promising progress in six countries (Lithuania, Kosovo and Paraguay’s post-pandemic procurement reforms, Ukraine’s defence reforms, and Nuevo Leon infrastructure reforms and Mexico City’s public bike-share program).