How not to commission insanely

For years, many local authorities have commissioned insanely - doing the same things over and over again, but expecting different results.  As society faces a triple whammy of an aging population, decreasing public sector budgets and increasing demand, we now desperately need those ‘different results’.

There has been moderate excitement around last week’s Civil Society strategy.  Enthusiasm has focused on the proposals to revisit grants, strengthen the Social Value Act or release more dormant funds.  They have missed the truly game-changing, life-changing hidden gem – a fresh focus on Innovation Partnerships (IP).

The IP model was established in 2015 “to open up opportunities for commissioners to select innovative providers with whom they can then deliver services outside competitive tendering requirements.”

Or in less dry ‘procurement-speak’, it allows a supplier to help design a solution, test it, adapt it on the fly and then deliver it.

The term ‘Innovation Partnership’ might sound a bit scary. It brings to mind science labs full of bright young things with difficult hair, all writing the code for self-driving cars – rather than a way of rethinking waste collection in Stoke.  The model itself however simply allows local authorities to blur the line between design and delivery, letting commissioners and suppliers work together - in a true partnership - to do things differently, to explore, to innovate, to test and to solve. 

There are five other important myth-quashing facts about IPs:

  1. You don’t need to have all the answers before you start
  2. You don’t need form a complex joint venture
  3. They can last as long as you need them to
  4. They can cover almost anything: product, service or process
  5. They can be used to help ‘solve societal challenges’

Some Local Authorities are being proactive in exploring IPs.  At HCT Group, we have had conversations with a few – but these are isolated cases.  So, with the renewed focus on IPs in the Civil Society Strategy, this blog is a ‘call to arms’.  The social sector needs to be brave.  It needs to understand IPs and how we can use them and proactively seek out commissioners and engage them.  Only when we really, truly, empirically, do something different can we sanely expect different results.  Only then can we expect solutions.

And this, in a nutshell is why you should care about what is, basically, a procurement mechanism.  IPs provide space and support to find solutions – truly transformative and impactful solutions for the inevitable public sector challenges that lie ahead.  

So, yes, this is a blog about commissioning – but it’s about bold commissioning at its most radical.  And not using every mechanism to hand – including IPs – to deliver the social impact which will revolutionise peoples’ lives and society: now that is the very definition of insanity.

For more information about Innovation Partnerships and other innovative procurement ideas, see our report: the art of the possible in public procurement

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