Govtech Industry Standards: Developing values-based procurement criteria for technology sourcing

I’m getting ready to moderate a panel this week at the Code for America Summit designed for government procurement officers and technology buyers. We’re going to have people from inside and outside of government talking about how we can build actionable criteria to use in procurement through a values-based framework.

Procurement processes in government began in response to corruption and favoritism — procurement itself is built to actualize the values of fairness and equity of access. But as anyone familiar with trying to respond to a government technology RFP can tell you, the best efforts to effectuate those values sometimes lead to significant unintended consequences — like stifling innovation, privileging established businesses over new startups and non-traditional providers, and frustrating government employees and constituents with the pace and quality of technology in government.

The CityGrows team (and one of our fans from Socrata) at the 2016 Code for America Conference

Procurement isn’t just what happens after an RFP is issued — it’s the full lifecycle of how an organization’s needs are understood, what strategies are used to fill them, and how work is evaluated.

In this article (and in our panel this week) we’re going to focus in on one piece of the process — creating actionable criteria to use in evaluating vendors that are based on values. Each organization is going to have a different set of values and goals — but we’re confident that if an organization’s values are aligned with the public good, and the organization uses criteria consistent with those values to select technology vendors, we’ll be a lot closer to creating better outcomes and as Alla Goldman Seiffert from 18F says, “de-risking technology and innovation for government.”

During our panel we’ll each be focusing on a value and associated criteria — and I’ll update this post after this week to reflect the conversation and additional information that we’ll gather from participants, but here’s a sense of what we’ll be discussing.

Alla is going to focus on the value of testing/ iteration/ feedback. She’ll be discussing how important being open to new information “mid-stream” in a project is, and how essential it is to build procurement processing and contracting mechanisms that anticipate and celebrate the fact that everyone involved in a technology project will understand it better as it continues — and that it’s at least possible, and probably likely, that the technology product that emerges at the end of a feedback and testing-driven process will look quite different than what you thought you needed at the beginning. She’ll share how she’s operationalized these values in 18F’s procurement decisions.

Michael Owh, the City of Los Angeles’ first Chief Procurement Officer, will be discussing the values of equity and diversity, and how procurements designed with these values in mind emphasize outreach and de-emphasize traditional qualification metrics (such as years in business).

I’ll be talking about transparency — one of our core CityGrows values. Designing procurement to prioritize transparency means not only sharing information about how you’re making a procurement decision, it’s about making open data a core expectation, not an add-on. It’s also about sharing information about procurement disasters and vendor performance, so that multiple governments don’t have to make the same mistakes twice. And about prioritizing vendors who make their actual technology (or at minimum provide some level of real access to their systems) available for governments to see and evaluate — before they write a check. How much does a given vendor spend on sales relative to development and support? Perhaps just like nonprofits are required to report the percentage of their funds spent on administration and fundraising, technology companies that want to sell to government should be required to share what percentage of their expenses go towards sales….

Sky Kelly from Avisare and Matt Polega from Mark43 will be sharing their perspectives as vendors selling to government — as well as lessons learned from developing a two-sided marketplace for procurement (Avisare) and promoting collaborative procurement across multiple agencies (Mark43).

We’re excited to help organizations build a set of criteria that helps move them towards technology success. Government technology vendors shouldn’t depend, as Jen Pahlka says “on government clients having little to no technology background, and little ammunition against their aggressive negotiation.” As vendors, we need to sink or swim based on the strength of our technology and our ability to fulfill the needs of our government clients and the constituents they serve. Implementing values-based procurement should help ensure that the best tech companies win.

Please note we’ll update this post with more of the conversation that happens in the panel!

If you’re interested in learning more about how CityGrows can help digitize and automate your procurement processes — or any other processes in your government, get in touch! We’re at or always available online at!

Catherine Geanuracos

Written by

Serial co-founder 1st-time CEO. Transforming govt technology @citygrows. Creating new civic spaces in LA @hackforla @ciclavia @silverlakeforward. @geanuracos

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