The Procurement Forum website is managed by the European Secretariat of ICLEI- Local Governments for Sustainability, as part of the Procurement of Innovation Platform project financed by the European Commission. It is a good way of finding out what is going on in the public “procurement of innovation” space, and last week the site drew our attention to a new publication from the SPP regions project.
What’s that, we hear you say? Well, “SPP Regions is promoting the creation and expansion of 7 European regional networks of municipalities working together on sustainable public procurement (SPP) and public procurement of innovation (PPI). The regional networks are collaborating directly on tendering for eco-innovative solutions, whilst building capacities and transferring skills and knowledge through their SPP and PPI activities. The 42 tenders within the project will achieve 54.3 GWH/year primary energy savings and trigger 45 GWh/year renewable energy”.
Participants come from the UK (e.g. Bristol City Council), Denmark, Spain, the Netherlands and elsewhere. And SPP regions has now issued a new publication – the Market Engagement Best Practice Report.
It is “aimed at guiding public procurers in engaging with suppliers in the context of procurement projects where input from the market can improve procurement outcomes. The report contains practical advice and guidance, using examples of successful processes and actions to demonstrate how market engagement works, including the risks, resources required and first steps for public authorities”.
We are slightly puzzled as to why this group has produced this particular report, although presumably it reflects the importance of market engagement in the context of procurement of innovation. Indeed, it is hard to see how any attempt at innovation procurement can succeed without a good level of such engagement.
Anyway, whatever the reasons, it is a very good and useful report. The topic has been covered by others – in the UK, both National Audit Office and the “lean procurement” guidance published a few years back commented on the topic. We’ve written about it for Spend Matters and Public Spend Forum too. But this is a very complete – yet easy to read and understand – guide to the topic. With 17 pages of core content, it covers all the relevant points that we could think of without getting too lengthy and verbose. So congratulations to author John Watt of the ICLEI European Secretariat.
The guide uses short case studies to illustrate its points, from many different cities and countries. Generally these are relevant and interesting. In terms of the flow of the report, it opens with the reasons for engaging with the market, then goes through first steps and engagement at different points in the end to end procurement cycle, from pre-procurement to post-tender. Actually, perhaps that is one weakness with the report; we could think of more that could be usefully said about that post-tender stage. For instance, if the contracting authority is interested in innovation, then how to keep up with market developments and other suppliers who did not win the contract is a worthwhile topic to consider.
We were pleased to then see that the final topic covered is a look at the risks of engagement and how to handle them. Here is part of that section:
“It is also important to understand the risks associated with market engagement, so that you can minimise them. These include:
- unfairly advantaging one supplier;
- accusations of favouritism from unsuccessful suppliers;
- locking in a particular solution too early;
- directly reproducing parts of various suppliers’ proposals in your solution, without express permission;
- failing to protect a supplier’s intellectual property rights or commercially sensitive information;
- engaging in a way that disadvantages a group of suppliers e.g. Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs);
- shaping your specification or requirement in favour of one potential supplier or solution;
- performing inadequately, creating an atmosphere of mistrust and putting suppliers off working with government on procurement”.
So the report is actually worth reading for any practitioner, not just those particular focused on the innovation issue. Most of the advice is just as relevant to buying any routine item as it is to “innovation” – understanding the market and engaging with potential suppliers has benefits in every and any case.