Barcelona’s communications magic in public procurement to engage the world, and 2% of residents

The BCN | Open Challenge (BOC), launched by the city of Barcelona in partnership with Citymart in June 2014, presents a bold attempt to maximize what procurement could deliver to citizens. The program opened up six challenges to citizens and entrepreneurs worldwide.

A central pillar to the BOC was a pioneering communications strategy developed by the municipality in partnership with Citymart. BOC resulted in 119 bid submissions, 80,000 site visits, and a city-wide buzz in the entrepreneurial community. This success has laid the foundation for a wholescale reform of how Barcelona procures.

The facts about BCN | Open Challenge

BOC opened up six challenges to the entrepreneurs:

  • Reducing bicycle thefts
  • Empowering support systems to reduce social isolation
  • Monitoring pedestrian flows
  • Tools for digitalization of museum and archive collections
  • Automatic detection and alerts of damaged road surfaces
  • Empowering local retail through technology

Participants were invited to submit their solutions, with a contract to be awarded for each of the identified challenges.

The procurement path was structured as an open call for ideas followed by a negotiated procedure (according to the EU legislation). This gave the administration the opportunity to discuss proposals together with bidders in order to identify the optimal contract. This negotiation procedure also determined the final value of each contract, which could range between EUR 60,000–250,000.

Engaging entrepreneurs, SMEs, start-ups and citizens

City officials in Barcelona wanted to maximize the effectiveness of procurement by engaging a wider community of providers able to offer more innovative, disruptive solutions.

Actions & Results: Coordinate, Engage, and Simplify to Deliver

Communication would play a key role in achieving the goals of:

  1. Breaking through silos in the city administration to improve cross-departmental collaboration in the identification and definition of challenges.
  2. Communicating the opportunity to a global network of innovators beyond the regular public procurement field.
  3. Streamlining the procurement process to make it user-friendly.


The municipal administration broke from traditional working methods by departments collaborating in order to agree upon six relevant, appropriate challenges. These were to be selected from the twelve challenge proposals that were sourced from eight different departments.

The necessary momentum and political leadership were secured by getting the backing from the City Director and the Deputy Mayor responsible for economics, business, and employment. Facilitated by the Citymart team, this process began with a series of meetings to develop a better understanding of what problem-based procurement is and why it is valuable. This included fostering an understanding of how procurement could be used strategically, identifying and opening up the problems that needed solving rather than trying to specify the solution.

After this stage, the various departments worked together to identify appropriate challenges, draft proposals, and then undertake various rounds of revisions in order to perfect the challenge statements. A key goal of the redrafting stage was to encourage officials to incorporate ‘user-friendliness’ as a key value throughout the entire project design process.

This meant focusing on clearly identifying and communicating the problem they wanted to solve. For example, the first sourcing document drafted was over 60 pages long. This was finally cut down to a total of approximately 30 pages, including all templates for the bidding process.

Overall, the process helped identify strategically relevant problems to deal with and clearly articulated them. Moreover, the improved internal coordination and new collaborative network will be a valuable resource for future Open Challenges and other innovative projects in the city.

More than anything, unlocking the opportunity of open challenges is about changing the working culture of the administration.

It has helped change the way we work. There is more and easier cooperation now.

Anna Majo, Barcelona Activa, Barcelona’s Agency for Economic Development


The success of a call for solutions depends directly on whether the right people learn about the opportunity. A communication strategy was developed to ensure entrepreneurs unfamiliar with public procurement would learn about the opportunity and be sufficiently inspired to submit their proposals. Reaching new audiences requires new approaches to communication.

The BOC involved both an online and offline campaign run by the municipal communications department.

Online campaign

BOC was advertised widely across social media and web pages in three different languages (Catalan, English and Spanish). The initial launch of the project succeeded in attracting 50,000 visits to the project website within 21 days of publication — 70% from Spain, and 30% international. There was also a live chat function on the website, through which a group of people who had commented on the bicycle challenge page joined together to develop and submit a proposal together.

Additionally, 600 companies were emailed directly using Citymart Bidspark, while institutions such as Bloomberg, the World Bank, Nesta, and 15 other knowledge sharing organizations helped spread the message.

Offline campaign

In order to reach out to citizen-entrepreneurs, the challenge included video advertisements on buses, metro cars, and in metro stations. Four local newspapers also ran a series of articles covering the challenge at various stages. This helped create a buzz throughout the city, prompting people who may have never thought of engaging in a government contract.

The total costs of the communication campaign were estimated at EUR 10–15,000. Costs were kept low by reallocating advertising space obtained through in-kind partnerships.


Thanks to the interdepartmental collaboration highlighted above, the application procedure for the BOC was successfully streamlined to be inviting for entrepreneurs and citizens alike.

The problem statement outlining each challenge to be addressed was made easily understandable and was accompanied by in-depth information on the issue. The latter helped engage people who may not be familiar with the issue or lack access to the statistics.

Likewise, the application procedure was engaging, presented in clear language and accompanied by a detailed outline of each required step in the application procedure along with an FAQ. Additionally, the available documentation included a list of the members of the evaluation panel who would select the winning bids and the assessment criteria they would be using.

In future open challenges, there is some path to improve and we would like to perfect how challenges are defined, do more market analysis, and probably focus on fewer but more impactful challenges with a more substantial budget.

Anna Majo, Barcelona Activa, Barcelona’s Agency for Economic Development


The BOC communications strategy exceeded all expectations, drawing over seven times the expected number of online hits. The challenge was also successful in developing a new network of suppliers: only five of the six winning companies had previously engaged with city-level government contracts.

BOC proved that open challenges are a viable way of delivering value to citizens. Over time, Barcelona hopes to expand this form of procurement across even more departments and make it a key problem-solving tool. Moreover, the project has helped position Barcelona as a forward-thinking, innovative city, serving as a model for other cities (part of the #citiesshare alliance).

The BOC also helped the City of Barcelona run a hands-on trial of procurement in the form of an open challenge. A collaborative analysis of the process’ successes and areas for improvement allowed the administration to reflect critically.



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Sascha Haselmayer

Sascha Haselmayer


Passionate about social + city innovation, delightful procurement, connecting social entrepreneurs and governments. Fellow @ New America | Founder/CEO Citymart