Powering an inclusive recovery through open contracting
Insights from 100+ Lift applications
Public procurement can be a powerful lever for governments to achieve better results. From increasing citizens’ access to life-saving medicines such as in Chile and Ukraine, to expanding opportunities for businesses, procurement reform has been an essential tool during this challenging time. And as the world responded to the COVID-19 crisis, civil society organizations and citizens have held public leaders accountable as they signed billions of dollars in emergency contracts.
We want to help our partners take their ideas even further. We know that open contracting reforms can help our partners not just respond but rebuild better. That’s why we asked teams how they will use open-by-design approaches to public procurement to support an inclusive and effective recovery in this year’s call for applications to our impact accelerator program, Lift.
We are blown away by our community’s vision for a better world after the pandemic. When viewed together, the 100+ applications from over 45 countries tell us loud and clear that they see procurement as a tool to deliver better, fair, public services and achieve social change. And better even: that they have a plan. This vision is global: approximately 40 percent of applications came from Africa, 23 percent from Europe and Central Asia, 22 percent from Latin America, 9 percent from the United States and Puerto Rico, and 5 percent from Asia-Pacific.
Our team was very impressed with the high quality of applications, and felt like this year’s applications were even stronger than those we received in 2019. We are excited to work with all teams, whether through Lift or our other services, to help them achieve their goals and our shared aim of responsive and inclusive government.
The applications also give us insights on the field of open contracting and our community, and made us think about we could be doing better to support our partners:
- Our challenge question on inclusive contracting resonated with our partners. Almost 30 percent of teams proposed projects that aim to expand access to economic opportunity for vendors that don’t usually participate in government processes. Teams saw that more could be done to include SMEs, particularly local and women-led SMEs, in government contracting. We also saw several projects to use procurement to improve life for marginalized communities through more equitable infrastructure planning, and monitoring spending on public services such as education and healthcare.
- High interest in applying open contracting at home. Approximately half of the projects have a local regional or city level focus — we’ve received applications from 10 cities in the US. This shows us that our partners view open contracting as a tool that can change lives in their own communities.
- Civil society is eager to use its power for open contracting. Nearly 70 percent of our applications came from civil society organizations. Many of these applications addressed the critical role that civil society can play as countervailing powers to support accountability in places where there is less openness. Of the civil society-led applications, 40 percent aimed to improve oversight and government transparency.
Many of these applications are not the right fit for the Lift program, given that this program aims to go beyond raising awareness of an issue and advocacy and support actors implement reform steps that will lead to concrete, measurable improvements to public goods and services. But we do recognize the need to track and ensure that promises turn into action, and we are now thinking about how we might make a tailored support program for civil society organizations with their needs and objectives in mind.
- More opportunities remain for cross-sector collaboration: With our first Lift cohort, we saw that some of the most successful projects were when the government joined forces with civil society or vice-versa. These teams have been able to achieve results better and faster. That’s why this year we encouraged teams to apply as cross-sector collaborations. We were glad to see that in the end one in five teams applied as cross-sector collaborations, but we still feel like we could do more to encourage these partnerships.
- Our partners are eager to implement the Open Contracting Data Standard and the Open Contracting for Infrastructure Data Standard. Over 60 percent of teams mentioned publishing standardized open data as part of their project plans. While open, transparent, and useful procurement data remains a cornerstone of open contracting, many of the projects’ focus was on curating data and tools, rather than using the data to achieve measurable outcomes in terms of improving public goods and services. We want to help our partners fill this gap.
- There’s not much energy around service delivery globally….yet! While some projects proposed to monitor spending on public services such as education and healthcare, we were surprised that there weren’t more teams that submitted projects to improve service delivery. This was the case more so in some regions, such as Africa, and less so in others. We theorize that this is for several reasons, including that our partners want to do more groundwork first on data, advocacy, and monitoring. Using procurement reform to improve service delivery is a priority for us, so we will explore internally and with our partners how we can do more to show what might be possible to help spark our imagination but also ask different questions in the Lift application to help our partners think this way from the start. Let us know if you have any thoughts.
We are inspired by this incredible response from our community. We are eager to help build on this energy and support your efforts to achieve an inclusive and effective recovery. That’s why we will be in touch with all teams no matter if you’ve been chosen or not for Lift and explore what we can do to move your forward. We’ll provide feedback and connections to resources and we’ll have a new round of community calls that will cover the key topics. And in June, we will announce the five teams selected to participate in the new cohort — stay tuned!