From Useful to Used: Ideas for second generation open contracting commitments

Or: User-Centered Open Contracting: The next frontier in OGP

 

We’ve seen the status quo being challenged in public procurement. The large sums of money and the amount of discretion and opacity involved make it government’s number one corruption risk – so it’s a perfect place to start. There’s been impressive impact driven by open government reforms. In Paraguay, the strong commitments made through the OGP National Action Plan have formed the backbone for the transparency alchemists that led to the resignation of the Minister of Education. And backbone is needed for the bold.

 

 

Many governments have realized this and started the journey to publish better data. We’ve shared some good – well, great – ideas to integrate open contracting in your OGP National Action Plan. A big focus was on publishing standardized open data through the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) so that civil society, journalists, companies, and government officials themselves can perform smarter analysis of the data, assess value for money, identify business opportunities, or detect red flags.

 

 

Now more than 15 countries and cities publish open data according to the data standard; even more, if you only look at publishing open data about procurement. But still, there’s been too little thought as to creating positive, reinforcing, and meaningful feedback and engagement processes that actually use and build on this data to improve public procurement and create political change.

 

 

So for those who are looking at renewing their commitments, this post will offer some thoughts about how to create commitments that lead to star reforms, bringing citizens on board and helping create impactful interventions and accountability mechanisms that have the power to change the power dynamics in public contracting.

 

 

These suggestions apply not only to federal governments, but also local actors. If anything, the feedback cycle at the local level may be more empowering given that citizens are much more likely to see the results of the reforms.

 

 

The focus of your commitments will depend on what you want to achieve. The better you define your use, the better you’ll be able to make these second generation open contracting commitments count.

 

 

Effective civil society consultation in building portals

 

When implementing the Open Contracting Data Standard ( see our new interactive guide for help), it’s important to engage early with those who will access and use the data – including other government agencies, civil society, companies or journalists – to make sure the information will be used effectively. Nigeria has modeled civil society consultations in building its new open contracting portal NOCOPO, a key commitment under its first National Action Plan.

 

Training of users in how to use the data

 

The old model of “build it and users will come” is slowly dying out as governments realize they need to make an effort to engage users. Yet, the slightly unglamorous work of trainings, workshops and support to different existing and potential users is often crucial to the success of an initiative. Paraguay’s DNCP invested a lot of energy in training journalists and civil society organizations on how to use their new open data. As its director, Santiago Jure told me recently, they knew that opening up their data would come with a storm, but they didn’t expect to face a hurricane.

 

Online monitoring and complaint management

 

Ukraine’s open contracting revolution, which was built on open data, has received a lot of attention and won the OGP award in Paris. Less talked about has been the work of Transparency International Ukraine in building tools to use and analyze this public procurement data, such as DoZorro, a smart and engaging platform for civil society to file complaints that is linked up to the government’s open contracting portal ProZorro. Another tool uses the data to monitor red flags. Going beyond transparency for transparency’s sake is crucial. It’s about fixing problems, better services, and establishing avenues for government to address comments, feedback, and complaints.

 

Innovative ways for citizens to monitor public contracts

 

We’ve seen governments and others support civil society in many innovative ways to understand its views and encourage its input. This is especially true in areas such as public works that lend themselves to citizen reporting. Nepal has been calling out the need for civil society monitors to improve public contracts. In Buenos Aires, a new portal provides hands-on information and reporting mechanism for public works. Mexico’s Transparencia Presupuestaria has been been promoting citizen-driven rallies to share progress on public works countrywide. The CoST model in Honduras has provided a successful civic engagement platform (and also won an award at the OGP Summit in Paris). We’ve seen these monitoring efforts actually make a difference in improving service delivery and help residents of an apartment building stay warm in harsh Ukrainian winters.

 

Multistakeholder platforms

 

Public contracting needs all actors to work together for it to be effective. Ukraine has described this as a Golden Triangle to promote trust where each actor fulfills a specific role in a vibrant ecosystem. The state owns the central database and ensures the data is available to anyone. Business provides access to this database and customer acquisition and servicing. Civil society own and operate monitoring and risk-management tools.

 

In Mexico, the Open Contracting Alliance provides a network that promotes open contracting and initiates and coordinates its national implementation.   

 

 

The Contracting 5 is a government-run peer-learning network launched at the OGP Summit in Paris. Currently, Argentina, Colombia, France, Mexico, the UK and Ukraine are leading the way in sharing innovative ideas and best practices, and promoting open contracting more broadly.

 

 

Linking up contracting data to budgets, spending and beneficial owners

 

Open contracting is a key component of the fiscal openness agenda. With public contracts out in the open, an important next step is to connect the datasets and link up public contracts to budget and spending data, as well as to the beneficial owners of those companies that win the contracts and profit from them.

 

 

There will be many more ideas to make sure open contracting can fulfill its potential. It is no wonder 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 citizens. It is the key stage at which the goods and services that governments promise and owe their 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.

 

 

 

We want to know about your ideas, and are ready to help with technical and practical support along the way. We’d love hear from you.

 

 

One thing is certain: Only if all actors work together, and government is openly accountable, can we break up the legacy of vested interests plaguing contracts big and small across the world. We look forward to discussing successful examples and tactics at the OGP Summit in Georgia!

 

 

And whether you’ll get a star from the Open Government Partnership or not - you’ll sure be our star!

 

 
Authors: Georg Neumann