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Faces of Open Government – Gavin Hayman

Open Government Partnership|

In this section of the OGP newsletter, we feature individuals from government and civil society, and ask them about their experiences. Here is what Gavin Hayman, Executive Director of the Open Contracting Partnership had to say:

1. You left a big NGO to lead a smaller start-up NGO, what was it about the Open Contracting Partnership that attracted you?

I had the honour to run Global Witness which is a fabulous global anti-corruption watchdog working to expose dirty deals between companies and governments worldwide. We are talking about really bad stuff: secret sales of state assets at knock-down prices to anonymous shell companies run by corrupt dictators.

Rather than picking up the pieces, I became interested in why things keep going wrong and how to better structure and oversee the whole public deal-making process.

Now, public contracting and deal-making aren’t topics that immediately get the heart racing – they can be boring and complicated. But they are also vital: they are the bricks and mortar of public benefit where taxpayers’ money gets converted into schools, roads and hospitals. And the amount of money spent every year is mind-boggling: about US$9.5 trillion every year. That’s a whopping 15% of global GDP.

When companies and businesses sit down the rules have to be clear. And that’s why I jumped at the chance of heading a cutting-edge, silo-busting collaboration of government, business and civil society that is working to do that. We are trying to open up all these dollars and deals around the world through data and engagement so people use to information to fix things. Contracts create the roads, schools and hospitals that citizens care about and we think that open contracting can help governments deliver on their promises of public benefit. It’s helps create a better, fairer business environment too.

… I’m not sure that we’ve cracked all this yet, of course.

I really admired and learnt from Global Witness’ three very entrepreneurial founders too. It’s fun to run a young and agile start-up and to learn from your previous work and previous initiatives that I have been involved in like the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative. I’m enjoying working out how best to make a difference in a crowded field. Obviously, the sudden decrease in resources is a shock but it’s a pleasure to be part of a small, super-bright focussed team. Lean resources force us to think more creatively, collaboratively, and slightly disruptively. 

2. Do you have a favorite example of how an open contracting success has had a positive impact on people?

I think there is a compelling story in Ukraine, where businesses and civic technologists came together to help the government deliver basic, humanitarian supplies after the Maidan protests in Kiev in the winter of 2013-14. They implemented the new transparent public tendering and auctioning system ProZorro with open contracting data at its core. Documents and information related to public procurement are now open and freely accessible online. 

The results have been impressive: the government is saving 13% on average under the new system (several million US dollars and counting). And competition has increased as public information has become available more widely.

ProZorro is now being scaled up to cover to all of Ukraine’s government spending with the support of the Open Contracting Partnership (you can find out more at or here).

There is also the great story from Slovakia where the law was changed so that government contracts are only enforceable when they are published online. Transparency International Slovakia and others established a user-friendly platform making the information on contracts available more widely and worked with journalists to uncover corrupt contracts.

Several examples of waste, fraud and abuse came to light (including hospital scanners being bought at double the normal price from a shell company connects to a high-ranking politician) and contracts for expensive seafood, cognac and luxury cars were all cancelled after they were picked up and published by the media.

Now almost 8% of the public checks at least one contract or receipt online every year. The average number of bidders on public procurement contracts more than doubled since the reforms.

3. What do you think the key linkages are between open government and open contracting?

Two peas in a pod really. Government can not truly be open without open contracting. Contracting cuts across all government activities. Procurement of goods, works and other services by public bodies amounts to between 15 and 30 per cent of gross domestic product on average; in some countries even more. That is a huge amount of taxpayer’s money. If a government truly wants to be transparent and participatory about its affairs and operations, and address corruption and fraud, procurement is probably the first thing that needs fixing.

That’s partly why we cheekily say that open contracting is probably the most important part of a National Action Plan. It’s where the money and power is. With this in mind, open contracting as a new initiative has really be designed to slot into and reinforce the OGP processes.

It can also be a great win for OGP governments as open contracting can be a transformative commitment with great benefits for everyone involved. Two out of OGP three members have commitments to procurement reform. We suggest to commit to three actions:

1) Make contracts open by default.

2) Implement our global Open Contracting Data Standard to make data machine-readable, user-friendly, and lay the groundwork for a bunch of great tools to analyze where and how the money is spent.

3) Finally, support clear feedback and engagement mechanisms for business and civil society so that problems in procurement revealed by the information and the data get fed back and fixed.

4. What were some of your favorite moments and summit highlights?

Well, it was great summit with a great vibe and I think took place at an important time for the Mexican government too. The sheer diversity of engagement and the energy were remarkable. Obviously, I think the multiple open contracting sessions were great fun and I hope others would agree. The Mexican President announcing that the country’s huge new airport project would be fully open was very positive.

I was impressed to see OGP influencing other global initiatives as well. Discussions on how OGP can help deliver the SDGs were really interesting. And I am looking forward to seeing the Open Data Charter, that was launched at the Summit, gaining traction. Contracting and public procurement is a key dataset in that, of course.

Energy and innovation around cities was very striking. I would have liked to have more time to devote to learning from what is working in unpicking money and politics as that seems such a touchstone issue too.

And it was great to see that OGP participants not only work hard, but can have great fun too. Very notably so at the fabulous closing celebration. What other global initiative ends up with a banging rave?

5. How do you see the interaction of government and civil society organizations- is it really possible for the two to cooperate? What do you see as key ingredients to success?

Yes, it is but it takes hard work and plenty of it. I think the key to success is a triple lock of high level political cover, empowered institutional reformers who are going to the real work in the system, and civil society that is prepared to trust, engage and connect the dots between different government silos, dial up the levels of ambition and make sure government acts on feedback and fixes things.

I guess that’s what the learning community calls the sandwich strategy. I’d be lying if I wasn’t worried about restrictions on civil society space even within OGP members. Look at Azerbaijan and its appalling treatment of advocates such as Ilgar Mammadov.

It’s also worth mentioning the importance of engaging companies and the private sector. They can be crucial enablers or blockers of open government initiatives and aren’t engaged enough yet in the OGP.

Over the last year we have seen that in places where open contracting is on the fast track, like Ukraine or Mexico, it is because government agencies, civil society and businesses all collaborate and co-own the strategy. This is why we at the Open Contracting Partnership pay attention and help facilitate that ownership and collaboration.

6. What open contracting or OGP opportunities do you most look forward to in 2016?

First up, delivering more on the promise of open contracting on the ground with our current champions. We should be getting the first wave of data users engaging with government and fixing things, and the lessons and impacts from that will be hugely revealing.

I am also really excited by the emerging field of local governments as we have been having great results in open contracting including Montreal and Mexico City.

Our challenge for 2016 and beyond is to ramp up the engagement piece of both open contracting and the OGP. While more and more governments are opening up information, there are much fewer that provide citizens and businesses with the space and mechanisms to engage in decision-making or monitoring. There are even fewer examples of where government, companies and civil society have collaborated to fix problems that they identified through this newly opened up information and processes. This is a key challenge of the field and we are very focussed on it.

On OGP opportunities, we are looking forwards to agreeing a strategic partnership with the fabulous team at the OGP Secretariat and how we can work together and deliver really successful open contracting and open government interventions on the ground.

Finally, we are excited about to supporting the governments that have already committed to open contracting in their National Action Plans in making sure they can deliver (we have a helpdesk for that) and we will be reaching out to those 52 who are writing their new plans to see how open contracting can fit in. Great conversations ahead, we hope!


Gavin Hayman is the Executive Director of the Open Contracting Partnership, a silo-busting initiative collaborating across governments, businesses, civil society and technologists, to open up government contracting and deal-making through disclosure, data and engagement. Open contracting works across sectors and along whole process of government contracting to save governments money and time, deliver better goods and services for citizens, prevent corruption, and tocreate a better business environment for all.

Before that, he was Executive Director for Global Witness. He oversaw their groundbreaking and award-winning investigative, campaigning and advocacy work uncovering secret deals, corruption and conflict around the world. He helped create the international Publish What You Pay campaign and helped negotiate the intergovernmental Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

He is an expert on illicit financial flows, and helped lead global efforts to end the abuse of anonymous shell companies for money laundering and financial crime. He has a Doctorate from the University of Reading on global environmental crime.

Click here to read OCP’s snappy briefing on “Why open contracting is vital for open government”.

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