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Refining the wheel: What factors help people repurpose open contracting tools?

A version of this post has also been published on The Engine Room’s blog.

More than a dozen open-source tools now exist for publishing, analyzing, visualizing and working with government procurement data published according to the Open Contracting Data Standard. The great thing about many of these tools is that — theoretically — others can reuse them in new and different contexts instead of having to build new tools from scratch. But in reality, this doesn’t happen as much as you might expect. This blog explores what makes practitioners more likely to repurpose existing open contracting technologies, based on new research we did in partnership with the Open Contracting Partnership and the World Bank Procurement Global team. You can download the findings, as well as guidelines for tool re-users and tool developers at the end of this post.

Why re-use tools? 

Repurposing existing technologies can come with a host of benefits. Re-use can save an organization time and resources and offer access to a community of developers, support providers and other tool re-users. It can also contribute to resource conservation in civic tech more generally. 

In practice, these benefits are generally under-realized. In 2019, we looked more closely at why. What conditions enable successful re-use of open source tools in a new context, and what causes re-use attempts to be unsuccessful? What are the challenges encountered and how can they be surmounted? 

Research findings 

Many factors that contributed significantly to success were related to support, learning and funding, including: 

Other findings were more closely related to open contracting tools themselves: 

As the field of open contracting continues to grow and tools continue to be developed, organizations re-using tools are a critical part of the open contracting ecosystem. We hope that the following guidelines extend an invitation to new tool re-users, while also providing insights for existing practitioners.  

We’re also always open to hearing your feedback! If you have thoughts you’d like to share, please send them to hello@theengineroom.org

Practical advice for potential re-users and tool authors

Based on our findings and previous research into tool selection, we created two sets of guidelines.These, as well as our findings, can be downloaded below.