Great ideas for OGP Action Plans: Open contracting

This post is part of a blog series we are running over the next few weeks to highlight core open government issues and give you ideas to consider as you develop your new action plan. Last week we looked at how fiscal governance treasure hunts can be used by citizen-participants to access and use fiscal information with the goal of uncovering issues. This week we look at how open contracting can help governments deliver on the promise of more effective and trustworthy government. ¿Quieres leer este blog en español?

-The OGP Support Unit 

Think government contracts. Think billions of dollars in infrastructure, vital goods and services in health, education, and basic services. But also think number one corruption risk in government. Imagine this money delivering better value for governments and higher-quality goods, services and works for citizens, stimulating business rather than breeding bribery, and smart analysis that lays the grounds for better solutions for public problems.

It is no wonder then, that open contracting has become one of the major ideas to help governments deliver on the promise of more effective and trustworthy government, a better business climate, and better results for ordinary citizens. It is the key stage at which government goods and services to citizens either materialize, or fail.

Open contracting is about publishing and using open, accessible and timely information on government contracting to engage citizens and businesses in identifying and fixing problems.

Why now is the time to integrate open contracting in your National Action Plan

At the Open Contracting  Partnership, we are really excited to see already lots of engagement both on the national level as well as from cities across the world. Last year alone, our helpdesk has been busy responding to requests from over 20 countries.

At the 2015 OGP Summit in Mexico, President Peña Nieto announced that Mexico would implement open contracting in the development of the new Mexico City airport, the country’s largest infrastructure project in this decade. Other countries have followed suit to commit to open contracting, such as most recently Ghana has in its oil and mining industry, and, in some cases, are integrating its principles into their public procurement laws such as in Ukraine. 

But there is more to be done.

Nearly all countries within the OGP already have an electronic procurement system with at least some data on their contracts. Two thirds had related commitments in prior action plans. But to make sure these commitments are impactful, we have found that some key elements are necessary:

Publishing contracting information should be done using a global standard, such as the Open Contracting Data Standard to make sure it is timely, accessible and machine-readable.

Making more data available is just the start of the journey, it’s what you do with it that counts!

We found that public participation has been a key issue missing from prior procurement commitments. Only six of the 47 procurement commitments included engagement with civil society or public participation. This is crucial.

Open data relies on organizations that makes this information actionable, both internally to analyse government spending, as well as by civil society (and business) to check contracts are executed properly. With open contracting, this user case is concrete and provides a unique opportunity to be transformative. Hivos’ new global program will do exactly this and support independent journalists, hacktivists, artists, academics and civic watchdogs in opening up contracting data and making them actionable and useful.

Ultimately, we need to move the default for contracts to be open, not closed. Governments should publish contracts and make deals open by default, as is the case in Slovakia, where a government contract is not legal until it is published. This includes putting an unambiguous public disclosure clause in all government contracts and publishing data on contract milestones and performance. Great results followed. The last UK NAP committed to do this.

From thinking to doing: open contracting commitments in practice

There are many ways to get started with open contracting. A couple of suggestions for illustrative commitments.

  • Implementing the Open Contracting Data Standard for the full public procurement process, including the phases planning, tenders, awards, contracts, implementation. Some of the countries that have committed to do so include Canada, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, or Romania. You can read here, for example, how Canada is implementing the open contracting data standard. And you can see how Paraguay and Mexico have been delivering on its commitment.
  • Development of a program and channels to engage citizens in the monitoring of public contracting to provide timely feedback and fix problems, such as innovations from Georgia and Indonesia. We are working with the Ukraine in developing such a program as part of our Showcase and Learning project.
  • But open contracting can also be applied to specific sectors first, such as liberating contract management data on extractives or infrastructure. The Open Contracting Data Standard is both aligned with and can help support the Construction Sector Transparency Initiative (CoST) and the Extractives Industries Transparency Initiatives (EITI) with more granular and specific information, and in a more useable format too. Ghana and Sierra Leone have committed to opening up their contracts under this agenda.

With 51 countries getting ready for their new action plans, there is a wonderful opportunity to share learning and ideas on how to move to the next level in public contracting through open contracting.

Besides a growing number of countries with experience in this best practice, the Open Contracting Partnership is ready to support: to make the case why open contracting is important we have gather a couple of key stats and evidence on our (shiny new) website. The OpenGov Guide provides a useful starting point as well including lots of examples and help you start thinking about a commitment that fits your reality. Our resource center has some great resources from practitioner guides to citizen monitoring tools.

When it comes to implementing the commitment, we are standing by. Our Open Contracting Data Standard provides a handy global standard on how to publish all relevant information on government contracting. Our free helpdesk is ready to jump in with any technical questions. Drop them a line.

Finally, we want help share your stories. Whether it is about why you are committing to open contracting, how you are implementing it, or when you are evaluating it, we’d love hear from you and work out how to document and share them.

The benefits of open contracting are clear. Better public procurement through data, disclosure and engagement will see better deals and lives for everyone.

That’s why open contracting is so central to open government. 

Authors: Georg Neumann