Assessing the inclusiveness of public procurement systems: a new qualitative framework
Public procurement needs to better serve marginalised groups. Women, black communities, and many other groups often find themselves excluded from public tenders due to exclusionary practices, such as paying suppliers who have limited access to finance months after a contract is completed. As we know, many of these groups have also been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Inclusive public procurement represents a huge opportunity to ‘build back better’ by stimulating economic regrowth which works for everyone.
However, the phrase ‘build back better’ risks becoming little more than a post-pandemic slogan if it doesn’t trigger true reform. That’s why we were inspired to create our qualitative framework. It’s a practical tool which governments and external assessors alike can use to get a true understanding of how inclusive a public procurement system is, and subsequently make actionable recommendations for improvement.
Why a qualitative framework?
Our team at Oxford Insights already created a quantitative framework as part of our work for the UK Government Digital Service’s Global Digital Marketplace, which establishes a set of numerical metrics to assess inclusivity. This data has the potential to be very revealing; for example, knowing the number of women-owned or black-owned businesses a government contracts a year indicates how diverse its supplier pool is.
However, we knew that to truly represent the realities of lived experience — which is so entwined with Gender Equality and Social Inclusion as a policy area and can never be fully represented by numbers alone — we needed to create a qualitative framework as well. The number of women-owned or black-owned businesses contracted might give us an indication of how diverse a supplier pool is, but it doesn’t speak to the more nuanced challenges which prevent these groups from supplying to governments.
Alongside its quantitative counterpart, the new framework seeks to help assessors come closer to understanding these finer details of suppliers’ and procurement staff’s experiences within a public procurement ecosystem.
What does the framework measure?
The framework is divided into three broad categories, each of which includes a number of sub-indicators that encourage assessors to focus on a specific area of public procurement.
The first category asks assessors to consider whether principles of inclusivity are ingrained in policies, laws, and procurement regulation. Examples of this include paying attention to whether GESI is mentioned in procurement law, or if regulation requires suppliers to show evidence of commitment to GESI principles throughout their contract.
The second category looks more closely at the government’s capacity and internal tools designed to encourage inclusivity, asking whether the organisation has GESI-friendly hiring practices, or whether they provide GESI-orientated staff training, amongst other indicators.
Finally, the third section of the framework looks specifically at transparency and accountability, asking assessors to consider the extent to which the government openly publishes data around GESI and procurement, and whether civil society is engaged with the policy area.
A summary of the Framework’s three categories
How can I use it?
The framework could be used on its own, but was primarily designed to be used together with its quantitative counterpart, depending on the time and resources available to assessors. We anticipate that carrying out a qualitative assessment will take longer than the quantitative equivalent, due to the more nuanced nature of its analysis.
The frameworks follow a similar structure, and therefore can easily be used in conjunction with one another, and can also be carried out alongside other frameworks, such as the Methodology for Assessing Procurement Systems (MAPS) modules.
Importantly, both frameworks are free for anybody to use, and can be applied to any central or local public procurement system internationally. Although we have designed the frameworks to be universal in this way, we don’t underestimate the need for assessors to have a firm understanding of the local context, so we recommend that any external evaluators take the time needed to achieve this.
Get in touch!
If you’re interested in discussing the framework, or using it to assess a public procurement system, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our team is also running an open webinar on 1 December at 2pm GMT to give an overview of the framework, and hear from a selection of panelists who are carrying out important work on inclusive procurement. We warmly invite anyone that is interested to attend!
The research was partly supported by an Open Contracting Partnership action research grant.
Photo source: Freepik