We’ve been following the series of Public Procurement Podcasts put together by Dr Pedro Telles of Swansea University for the past few months now. In the series, he interviews various academics and others who have an interesting viewpoint on aspects of public sector procurement. In number 14, he speaks to Dr. Richard Craven, a lecturer at the University of Leicester in the UK.
His research interests “lie at the crossroads between law and social sciences, with a particular emphasis in public procurement research methods”. This particular interview is more of a discussion, with Telles himself contributing more than usual, as this is a topic of particular interest to him as well as Craven.
Craven’s PhD involved looking at how complex procurement exercises such as competitive dialogues were actually being run in practice; he interviewed lawyers, policy makers and procurement people to see what was really happening. This got him interested in doing this sort of empirical, real-life-based research rather than purely theoretical.
The early part of the discussion is perhaps of more interest to other academic than to procurement practitioners, as the two discuss research methodologies, and the pros and cons of doing research by actually getting out and seeing how people are interpreting the regulations, rather than just studying the legal texts from a theoretical perspective. I guess to a non-academic the more pragmatic route – which both Telles and Craven favour – seems intuitively preferable. It’s interesting to note that it is apparently easier these days to get funding for empirical rather than theoretical research in their field (good!)
The discussion becomes of more general interest perhaps when they talk about the different approaches to procurement challenges in different countries. They discuss why the UK has so few challenges, for instance – Craven’s research suggested “many suppliers didn’t see any reason for litigating, but actually they were happy with the process”. That is the case even if there was seems small breach within the process, whereas in other countries (Denmark and Portugal get a mention) there is more of a culture of challenging at every opportunity!
But there may be less positive reasons why suppliers don’t challenge; the cost of entering into the litigation processes, or the fear of upsetting the buyer and blacklisting, for instance. Both Craven and tells are fans of the Canadian Ombudsman role, and wonder whether the Cabinet Office’s “mystery shopper” scheme might evolve in that direction.
Craven is now getting into another interesting area of research; “… we are just starting some further empirical research into the protection of workers on government contracts so I’d like to interview procurement officers in relation to that, and lawyers if they happen to be listed in the UK”. That might take him into the sort of areas that the is looking at we guess?
He is also looking at “the way in which central governments have tried to achieve some broader policies like localism or big society through procurement …” He is going to “try and bring in some ethnography there”, and as soon as I have finished writing this, I will be looking up ethnography in the dictionary.
You can read the whole interview here at the Public Procurement Podcasts website and we will be back with the next in the series shortly no doubt.