In Washington, D.C. and Buenos Aires, at more than 8,000 km on opposing ends of the American continent, two different conferences discuss the future of procurement. Towards the Digital Frontier at the General Public Procurement Conference (GPPC) and The future is open at the International Open Data Conference (IODC). We are at both events to learn about new trends and tools that can make procurement more impactful and most important to connect with open contracting frontiers from around the world. As we are diving into these conversations, I wanted to share some ideas on where we see the three frontiers of procurement.
The future of procurement is open.
Procurement often happens in the dark — sometimes literally when shady deals are being made in secret and often figuratively when too few people know what government agencies are buying, for whom, when, and for how much. But public procurement doesn’t have to be a dark witchcraft done by a set of wizards behind a black curtain.
We believe, and have evidence, that open procurement can deliver faster and better results in terms of money and time saved or goods and services improved. In order to get these kinds of results, we need comprehensive and high-quality, machine-readable open data that drives action and analysis. The Open Contracting Data Standard can help with that. It’s a global best practice schema to unlock, organise, and share data across the entire flow of the transactions between governments and companies. The standard makes it easier to organise all the information so that people can track and draw meaningful insights. It can be adapted to suit different needs: A procurement officer who wants to research a supplier’s contracting history, for example, an open data activist who wants to build a tool to track red flags, or a parent who is interested in knowing where their child’s school lunch comes from.
The future of procurement is goal-oriented.
We all know the signs on doors that say “push” or “pull”. But is it a well-designed door if we don’t know in which direction to open it? Procurement shouldn’t be trial and error. To be effective, each procurement process and the wider procurement policies and systems need to be designed with a goal in mind. Are medicines too expensive, of poor quality, or not reaching community hospitals? Are huge amounts of budgets lost due to inefficiencies or mismanagement? Are contractors being paid late or do companies not participate in the marketplace because they believe they will never win? Procurement can be a powerful tool to reach policy goals, such as making the market more competitive or improving health care services, but you need to start with a well-defined goal.
Our impact stories from Ukraine and Bogota show different kinds of results but they share one common thread: At the beginning of their reform or initiative, they had an impact goal in mind. ProZorro in Ukraine wanted to get more companies participating in public tenders and lower corruption levels. Parents in Bogota and the Secretary of Education were seeking healthier meals for their kids and diversify its suppliers and they were able to get both.
The future of procurement is collaborative.
To define that important goal and achieve it, you have to work with others. If someone had tested that door first, simply by having someone, a user, walk through it, they would have known that the door needs different handles to make it evident whether you have to push or pull. The same is true for procurement. Your users, other government departments, companies, and citizens often know what they need. Engage them first to define what you are buying and then keep working with them. This is when the real magic happens. Collaboration across stakeholder groups to achieve goals or fix problems.
In Nigeria, civil society wanted to find out where the government’s money for schools and primary health care centers went. Out of that goal evolved an idea, Budeshi, that pulled government data together to visualize the spending. But it didn’t stop there. The idea grew. Now government and civil society are working together to make open contracting happen in Nigeria. The Bureau of Public Procurement open contracting portal Nocopo was co-created and has started publishing data this year.
Collaboration is never easy. It will be hard. It will often take a long time. But it has all the potential to be transformative.
I hope that these points can help frame the conversations that we will be having this and next week.
So, come and find us and let us know what you think the next frontier in public procurement is. What’s the most important reform to make procurement more impactful? The boldest idea will get a drink on us.