One of the key requests from our community is help in making the case for open contracting. Over the past year we’ve been getting feedback on what partners and allies most need and how we can help.
This short guide is designed to walk you through the steps of developing an advocacy approach for open contracting. These insights, tools and suggestions can be used by civil society activists as well as reformers within government and the private sector who would like to champion open contracting principles. We’ll take a look at how we define advocacy, the four essential steps to creating your own open contracting advocacy plan, and finally share our team’s tips for what to do when your advocacy work faces barriers and challenges.
What do we mean by ‘advocacy’?
Advocacy is how we make the case for change to the people who have power to make change happen. Typically, we think of advocates as civil society organizations who can influence and persuade decision-makers using evidence, arguments, and case studies around legislation. But in practice, anyone can be an advocate: businesses, government and multilateral institution employees can all persuade internal and external stakeholders of the benefits of open contracting, and update formal and informal rules, regulations and ways of working to improve procurement.
This Open Contracting Advocacy Toolkit will walk you through the main approaches to open contracting reform, explaining the typical steps of the advocacy planning process with tools, evidence and stories. It is written with civil society in mind, but anyone looking to improve procurement can find useful tips and information to support you.
While there are many general advocacy resources already out there (for example, this guidance from Hivos), this guide pulls together and adjusts the most recent and relevant approaches and arguments for open contracting reforms, incorporating the feedback we’ve received from you.
Step 1: Context – Identifying your advocacy opportunity
Before creating your strategic framework and implementation plan for advocacy work, it is important to look at your specific context and identify your strongest advocacy opportunity so you can choose your approach with intention. Consider creating an internal document for your team to add notes and opinions on the best advocacy opportunities and how strong each opportunity is. You will use this contextual information as a basis for developing your advocacy strategy in Step 2.
Four primary advocacy approaches align to the most common opportunities we’ve come across in the field. In some cases you may use a combination of more than one, depending on the landscape and how the political climate evolves, but think carefully about your time and resources to avoid spreading your team too thin!
When to use it
Champion a standalone, comprehensive open contracting reform
|Opening to propose new legislation (e.g. new party in power, recovering from a procurement scandal, condition of international donor funding)
Political will exists or can realistically be built across a broad enough spectrum of parties to pass legislation
Clear need exists or can be demonstrated among regulatory decision-makers to update procurement guidance
|UK Transforming Public Procurement Green Paper. In 2020, the UK experienced a number of procurement scandals relating to Covid-19, prompting an inquiry by the National Audit Office, and new proposals legislation to reform public procurement might look like. This legislation is now tabled for Spring 2022.
Following Ukraine’s revolution, the government passed what remains one of the world’s pioneering examples of dedicated open contracting legislation – ProZorro and DoZorro.
Integrate open contracting into open government, transparency and anticorruption efforts, often a stepping stone to more ambitious procurement reform
|The open government, anti-corruption, integrity and transparency agenda has high-level political buy-in to drive hard reforms and regulatory changes (commitments that go beyond ‘soft’ promises to do better)
There is an existing framework for transparency reforms where open contracting can be inserted. This might be an OGP national action plan, a set of institutional donor loan commitments, and in some contexts
|At the outset of the pandemic, the IMF released additional Rapid Credit Facility funding to support struggling economies during the pandemic. These came with associated open contracting commitments, adding a lever for advocating domestic reform, as reviewed in our research.
In Ecuador, the country had already undertaken a program of transparency commitments for their Open Government Partnership National Action Plan, and decided to fast track its open contracting reforms when the pandemic started, to improve the government’s ability to respond to the crisis by buying fast and openly. During the first year, about 10,000 emergency procedures worth a total of $250 million were made available as open data, over 50 legal cases have been raised, and approximately 24,000 officials have been trained in how to do emergency procurement more efficiently and openly.
Educate and/or create demand for open contracting where no existing agenda lends itself to reform, or where support for or awareness of open contracting and related open government initiatives is low
|If there is no existing opening to reform procurement law or regulations, or if progress is in its early stages, might need to focus on initial pilots, education and awareness raising in order to:
||While Kenya has lagged behind in implementing its open government commitments nationally, a small country – Makueni – championed a local open contracting project that advocates can use as a proof of concept pilot, enabling greater efficiency and oversight of COVID-19 procurement.|
Integrate open contracting as a way to reach high priority social and economic goals
|If you have either already secured core procurement reforms or that type of reform is not immediately possible, you can also look ‘outside the box’ to pursue reform by speaking to your government’s priorities.
The advantage of procurement is that it touches everything. You can choose any UN development goal, any government target, and find a way that open contracting will lead to better procurement spending to deliver it.
|Nigerian civil society has created an open contracting data platform, Budeshi, to publish and review details of more than 10,000 MDA contracts worth a total of more than 226 billion Naira (approximately US$591 million) since 2014. Their efforts flagging irregularities during the pandemic have led to the Bureau of Public Procurement committing to a new e-procurement system to improve contract data and improve anti-corruption enforcement.|
Step 2: Strategy – Designing your advocacy strategy
Once you’ve established a strong sense of the context and most promising route for pushing open contracting reform, the temptation to charge ahead enthusiastically with tactical ideas is very real. But to go the distance, you need a roadmap, which includes making sure you’ve chosen the right vehicle for the journey. Just like a fancy boat will not be much use if your route is landlocked, an advocacy program targeting regulators isn’t suitable when your opportunity is a new piece of legislation where you should prioritize engaging elected officials.
Advocacy is about identifying and building or neutralizing centers of power – those that advance your cause, and those that hold it back. This is where taking a brief pause to set your strategic framework comes in handy. Analyzing your opportunities and stakeholders through the lens of power – who has it, how do they use it, and how can you build it so that momentum gathers towards change – is critical.
Sometimes we avoid strategic frameworks for fear that they can become time-consuming thought exercises with no action or impact – but when done well, this is not the case. That’s why the word framework is critical. Your strategy is not the end all be all of foreseeing every potential problem or resolving every detailed question that could hypothetically arise, it is a decision-making and prioritization aid.
A good advocacy strategy can be discussed and agreed in a few days. It doesn’t need to be long, and it doesn’t need to be complicated. Our strategic framework discussion guide looks at power in more detail, and walks you through a series of questions that can help your team orient the approach.
At its core, your strategy must include five things:
- Objectives – What do we want? Where are we going?
- Approach – How do we get there?
- Targets – Who can give us what we want?
- Allies & influencers – Who can help us get there?
- Barriers – Why hasn’t it been done already?
Once you have your strategic framework, you unlock a special power: the power to say ‘no’ with confidence. Every organization knows the challenges of stretched resources, we only have so much time, money and staff. So whenever we are asked if we can speak at an event, arrange a meeting with a stakeholder, monitor a new piece of legislation or regulation that’s just come up, we can go back to our five questions and ask if the proposed activity will be critical to implementing the strategy.
Use this guide to ask your team key questions that will help inform your framework, which you can write up in a simple word document or powerpoint deck for the team to be informed of your common objectives and approach.
This template provides a ready-made way to segment your target audiences and discuss how they have been segmented and prioritized with your team.
Use this team exercise to plot which factors are the highest risk for your advocacy goals, and prioritize which ones to actively mitigate.
Step 3: Messaging – Building your case for change
A common mistake at this stage is to draft a pitch that says what we as advocates want to say. But what we really need is a pitch that is what our advocacy targets need to hear. The two are not always the same.
A good messaging framework has a short core pitch, and includes arguments, examples and evidence to support your case for change. It’s most effective to find examples and evidence from cities, regions or countries that share similarities, or from reforms that addressed the same theme or sector (medical procurement, infrastructure, etc.) as you are looking to work on. If you don’t find examples at the ready here, don’t hesitate to reach out to your peers in other cities and countries and ask directly in case they have more to share. We’re always happy to put our partners in touch for peer learning!
Not sure where to start drafting your case for change? Use this template to think through the components of crafting an argument specific to your context and priorities. Template includes an example of OCP’s messaging.
An adaptable four-page pitch you can copy and update, or use as inspiration for your own version to meet your needs.
A short stock presentation on open contracting that you can use to present the concept to new audiences.
A repository of all our strongest evidence, where you can choose the proof points that will work best in your context.
A copy-paste friendly list of our top impact stories, in summary form.
Step 4: Tactics – Planning your advocacy program or campaign
An advocacy program, on the other hand, is your ongoing strategy to keep beating the drum for open contracting in what might be a variety of stakeholder groups and spaces. You may not always have a live campaign, but you will always have an ongoing advocacy program.
Once you know which advocacy approach(es) you are using for the upcoming 6, 12, or 18 months you can decide what your advocacy program looks like, and if any of its goals would benefit from a concerted campaign around specific moments.
When you get stuck…overcoming barriers to change
Meaningful, sustainable reform takes time, and progress is rarely linear. One of the challenges of advocacy work is that so much is outside of our control: political dynamics, economic pressures, competing issues that take priority, change in personnel, and the myriad ways reform can be blocked or go wrong along the way.
But we are all here because we know our cause is worthwhile, and we want to make a positive impact that leads to more open, fair and equitable societies, so we are not the type of person to give up at the first sign of difficulty.
Over the years, our team and our community have all come across barriers to securing open contracting reform opportunities and then ensuring those reforms are implemented well. We are familiar with many of the concerns, questions or objections some stakeholders might have regarding opening contracting: the cost, the time and resources, the technical requirements, fears about sensitive information, and so on.
While our first course of action is to develop a strong advocacy strategy with solid messaging, evidence and activities to make a compelling case for change, often we need to address potential objections or concerns head-on, or re-ignite energy after it has stalled because of a particular sticking point.