Making public tenders to be really public

In many countries, public spendings are becoming more and more transparent and open. Such a transparency could attract new companies to the competition for public tenders. Theoretically…

In practice, adding transparency per se brings positive changes only when information, which is becoming more open, reaches its audience. But this is not always the case.

Centralization and data monopolists

We get used to official public procurement portals, where anyone can search for information about tenders and contracts. Some of the portals are good, some of them have space for improvement, but it does not matter.

Almost all of them have the same limitation — businesses must develop a habit to check them from time to time. And even email notifications, not so frequent feature of government-managed portals, solve the problem only partially.

Of course, there are companies, which have lots of experience in working with governments, such a “champions” of public tenders. These companies learned how to manage this task. However, they are not so numerous, while the vast majority of businesses do not have this habit, missing opportunities for themselves and staying aside of public contracts.

This status quo looks okay for many stakeholders.

The “champions” had already developed needed habits a long time ago and learned how to dig thousands of tenders on public portals. Often they appoint special people, whose duty is to monitor the portals regularly. And apparently, they do not need additional competition, so for them, a complexity of portals is rather a blessing, as it makes work of “tender newbies” harder.

Government officials are also often satisfied with the situation and do not want to change it. They do not see a need to promote this information, bringing new participants. Their logic is simple — “Those, who are interested in selling to us, should go to our portal and dig the data with functionality, which we developed for them ten or twenty years ago. If someone does not do it, it is not our fault. And yes, life is hard, no complaints, please”.

Of course, not all public servants think in this way. There are people, who would like to promote this information and bring more competition to their tenders, but they simply do not have skills and resources, as promotion usually requires money and experience in marketing.

Decentralization and partnership

If someone in government wants to improve the situation and does not want (or has resources) to start a massive marketing campaign on his own, there is an alternative to explore — bringing to the game those players, who already have relevant audience and visibility, and encouraging them to advertise public tenders.

Of course, not with a message to their audience “go to the official portal and check there, may be you could find there something useful,” as it will not work. Instead, such partners should be able to add new content to their sites.

Results can be impressive. Here is one case:

In Ukraine, decentralization of data and partnering with private companies increased number of participants by 380% over a year

We will explore this case in a separate story, so, please, follow OCDSearch not to miss it.

Who could be an interested partner?

Just a few examples:

Business media want to enhance their sites. Such integration could be almost effortless (just adding a search bar) or pretty sophisticated (context-dependent display of tender notices, related to the content of the article their visitors read now);

Business communities may want to show specific opportunities (selected by geography or subject of procurement) to their members;

Non-profit organizations, supporting small business or some demographic groups could filter tenders and show their audience only those, which they consider relevant.

What about the data?

No need to reinvent the wheel. There is Open Contracting Data Standard, which unifies publishing of tender data. It is developed and promoted by Open Contracting Partnership which accumulated significant experience in this field. There are already some successful implementations in UK, Australia, Ukraine, Nepal, Columbia, Mexico City, City of Montreal, etc.

The data itself may look confusing for non-specialist (example), but it is a minor problem. What is more important, this is a standard, which becomes more and more popular. And around it, new tools and solutions are being developed, including validators, visualizations, etc. One of the examples is our which is intended to humanize the procurement data and make it easily embeddable to any website, including a personal blog, maintained by a blogger himself.

We expect that in a nearest future governments role will be organically limited to publication of data and maintaining of simple portals (an ‘etalon’ representation) . Distribution of this data to the interested audience will be done by those, who do it better.

Decentralised open data — it is not only about blockchain. And now it looks like open data is becoming more and more important in a new economy. How fast will public sector recognize it?

We’ll see