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Firing up for 2017: What to expect from open contracting

The winter chill is upon us in Washington. But imagine what it must be like in icy Kyiv where temperatures have plunged to -15 Celsius. Residents of one municipal apartment building were left literally freezing in their homes after contracted repair works to improve insulation never materialized. The UAH 200,000 (US$7,500) contract was paid nonetheless. But thanks to the data published through Ukraine’s pathbreaking open contracting platform ProZorro.org, the local group Anticorruption Headquarter was able to track, report and then push for the repairs to happen. This focus on converting data into action will be our theme for 2017.

At the end of 2015, we celebrated the lift off of the Open Contracting Partnership’s moonshot to make the multi-trillion dollar world of public contracting ‘open by default’.

We were able to reach escape velocity on that mission in 2016, not least due to the enthusiasm of our partners and allies around the world and our fabulous donors and advisory board.

Both our organization and our work looked very, very different at the end of last year from the start. We saw:

2016-timeline

Commitments are nice but results are what really counts. In 2016, we saw the first evidence that open data and improved disclosure and engagement can genuinely transform public contracting on the ground. The most remarkable story comes from Ukraine, where open contracting is at the heart of public procurement reforms. These have allowed journalists and organizations like TI Ukraine or the Anticorruption Headquarter to investigate fraudulent contracts. The reforms have saved Ukraine more than UAH 9 billion (US$333 million) so far. Thousands of new suppliers have been encouraged to enter the market as corruption has decreased, with bidding on contracts rising too.

We’ve also made mistakes and learnt lessons. We now know a lot more about:

The jump in demand for open contracting has encouraged us to step back, reflect on and refresh our strategy so that we can scale our work better. We will adapt the way we work to:

1) Provide earlier catalytic support. We need to convert rising interest and commitments into actual results. We now have a much clearer idea of how to do that, including the best workflow and approaches to implementing open contracting projects.

The early stages of adopting open contracting can be a particular challenge when reforms may meet internal resistance or momentum may dissipate. We plan to be more catalytic: proactively following up on commitments, seeking out and supporting the mid-level practitioners responsible for implementation, conducting assessments, surfacing user needs, offering tools and guidance and connecting allies.

2) Scale more effectively. We will “productize” and scale our services and guidance so that they can be replicated and adopted much more easily by others. In 2017, we will be rolling out resources like standardized assessments, draft workplans, vendor terms of reference and lists of monitoring and evaluation indicators for different use cases. We’ll also support a suite of basic open contracting visualization and analysis tools — developed either by us or by an emerging field of partners such as Development Gateway.

3) Double down on our efforts to build the field, not be the field. Getting impact across the trillions of dollars spent on public contracting each year means that we have to work through others to achieve real scale. We are going to be much more intentional about building the capacities of other organizations to deliver on open contracting. We will prioritize projects that equip our allies to do open contracting independently. We have also set ourselves explicit new targets in this area to achieve by the end of 2018, including helping our partners to get independent funding.

So 2016 was transformational for open contracting. We saw governments, businesses and citizens warming to one of the hottest trends in open government and in international development. We are stoked to have played a part in that.

As we all know though, it’s not your last move but the next one that counts. In 2017, we will double down on our new strategy, especially against a backdrop of populist distrust of governments. Stories such as the apartment residents in Kyiv should serve to keep us grounded in our vision to make public contracting smarter, more responsive and open by default. Our focus will be on turning data into impact.

With an enhanced team, refreshed coordinates and rising demand, here’s to cranking up the heat further in 2017 and to igniting lasting change around the world.

Photo: Stewart Butterfield (CC BY 2.0)