Commission outcomes not activity.

As part of my contribution to The Creative Exchange I attended a workshop on Public Service Innovation and Democracy. Through the course of discussion we soon discovered that several attendees working in creative and service sectors experience a common problem with tendering - that the organisation running the procurement often has very fixed ideas about what they want to buy. There was general agreement that this tendency to be very specific didn’t leave much room for imagniation and innovation.

The outcome of our discussion was a proposal to explore a new approach to commissioning digital and creative services. Here’s a quote from the terms of reference:

The standard tendering model is not effective in the contemporary cultural and creative sector:

  • Premature-specification: The traditional model, with a specification of how or what should be delivered, is appropriate to homogenous services or goods where tenders must meet requirements that can be determined before the competitive procedure. Creative services, by contrast, are constrained if the method is defined in advance. Instead the commissioner should focus on explaining their aims and objectives and allow the competing suppliers to imagine and suggest what and how these should be delivered.
  • Speculative work: procurement of creative services can involve requests for ideas, examples, or other forms of speculative work like open competitions. This involves considerable upfront investment from suppliers, the intellectual property rights for which cannot be protected. Indeed the award of a contract is not guaranteed overall (let alone to any given supplier). Suppliers are at a significant disadvantage in this commissioning model and the incentives for participation are weak.
  • Risk-aversion: The priority in procurement is often to minimise risk rather than maximise value-for-money. This can lead to a bias towards larger established firms at the expense of SMEs and of innovation.
  • Administrative-burden: public tenders often involve lengthy pre-qualification processes and masses of paperwork (often owing to risk aversion as above). This burden weighs disproportionately heavily on SMEs who may not have the resources to respond or for whom such requirements may be irrelevant (i.e. a freelance designer working from her kitchen probably doesn’t need ISO compliant Health and Safety policy).

Alpha Procurement Proposal