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Helping governments make change: our lessons learned from Open Contracting Lift

Three years ago we launched Lift, our impact accelerator program, to help our partners reach their impact goals faster and smarter. Since then, we’ve learned a lot about what does – and does not – work when supporting teams of government reformers to achieve systemic reform. Now that we’re getting ready to launch our third call for applications in early 2023, we’ve been reflecting on what we can do even better. 

Overall, we’re excited to see that our approach is successful! Teams from around the world have leveraged this program to achieve outstanding results. For example, Mexico City designed a transparent procurement process to update a modern, user-friendly bike share network and nearly double its service area, all at half the cost of the original network. 

Lift is an 18-month program that provides intensive change management and technical assistance on open contracting, as well as financial support. Participants are selected based on their proximity to achieving impact, buy-in from key stakeholders, high capacity team members, and geographic diversity. Our program is centered around two intensive co-design workshops and biweekly check-ins with a Lift advisor who provides technical assistance and accountability. We have run the application process twice, and competition is very tight. Last year, we received over 100 applications from over 45 countries for seven slots. 

With our next call for applications, we want to take this opportunity to make the program even better. Check out some of our key lessons learned from the past year below.  

Here’s what we learned

To get to impact, we need to provide more comprehensive and longer assistance. 

We want to help our partners achieve their project impact goals. For us, impact means significant, widespread, documented change in competition, savings, service delivery, and/or improvement in governance or public trust. Yet we’ve observed that even for our high-performing Lift teams, achieving impact often takes longer than the 18-month program timeframe, and teams would benefit from more proactive, comprehensive support from us to get there. That’s why we’re exploring a longer program timeframe and expanding the support team to include an advisor, an additional technical expert, and a data expert, rather than just one Lift advisor. 

For the program timeframe, we’re considering several options. Most likely we will keep the core Lift program at 18 months, and add 6 months of light-touch technical assistance and monitoring, learning, and evaluation (MEL) support to document the teams’ progress. We’re also thinking about making the core program 24 months, or moving to a 12-month-long incubator for selected teams, plus an invite-only 12-month accelerator for top teams that demonstrate strong commitment and momentum during the incubator.

We must double down on our data assistance, especially for tougher contexts.   

Our Lift teams that already have strong data infrastructure and capacity generally move faster. However, not all our Lift teams come from places where good procurement data practices are the norm. This lack of usable and transparent data also makes it difficult for our lower-data capacity reform teams to fully understand the challenge at hand, and set project baselines or gauge if their efforts are really making a difference for MEL. We’ve seen that building this data infrastructure takes a lot of time and effort, and often is more of a push from us rather than a pull from the team. 

To help fill this gap, we’re planning on updating our Lift program model to provide robust data support right from the start, rather than wait for teams to request this support from us. During the selection process, we could also better articulate our expectations on data capacity, and the commitment we expect from teams who are further from good practice standards.   

Team leadership transitions are tricky, and we need to prepare better. 

During a long program engagement like Lift, some teams will face a change of direct team leadership or navigate political leadership transitions. We feel well-equipped to support teams with political changes thanks to our advocacy expertise. But we need to do more to prepare ourselves and the program participants for team leadership changes. Good team leadership makes a big difference in the ultimate success of a project. Sometimes, the unexpected departure of a team leader to another role or organization has severely disrupted project momentum. 

One potential solution we’re exploring is asking for two project leads (up from one) as part of our program selection criteria. This is because we’ve observed that teams with strong co-leadership go farther, faster, and are more resilient than teams with just one strong leader. Those teams where leadership responsibility is more distributed were better positioned to maintain speed and required less time for onboarding or knowledge transfer. We want to continue thinking about other strategies we can use to help promote healthy teams with consistent leadership.  

Looking ahead
We’re eager to continue reflecting and learning on how we might better help our partners achieve impact. Please reach out if you have any insights you’d like to share with us. And stay tuned for our next call for Lift applications in 2023!

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