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Inspired by the Future of Open Contracting

Robert Hunja's picture

I just returned from an intense but inspiring week in London with my team, to meet with the open contracting steering group and other committed practitioners, to shape how we will take open contracting forward.

As someone who has worked on procurement and contracting his whole life, it has been heartening for me to see such strong interest and engagement around open contracting. Now that I am back from London, I’d like to take the opportunity to reflect on some of the inspiring conversations that I had over the last few days and to share some important decisions that the open contracting steering group has made.

Let me begin with the heart of open contracting – the open contracting principles. At the first global meeting for open contracting in South Africa, October 2012, practitioners called for overarching principles to define how open contracting will work in practice.

In London we gathered the open contracting steering group, representatives from the governments of Colombia, India and the UK, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, Global Witness, and others-some of the brightest people working on procurement and transparency in their respective countries or industry sectors. Many of these representatives have been working with us since Johannesburg on developing draft open contracting principles that can be applied across countries, stakeholder groups and sectors. Through a day of intense discussions we finalized coverage of the principles and, more importantly, we strategized about their roll out.

Initially, the principles will be purely voluntary. Countries, governments and individuals will be able to endorse them. While we are still defining exactly what this means, several governments have told us that they find these principles helpful and that they want to adopt them. We also plan to promote the principles through existing initiatives, such as Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, the Open Government Partnership and the Construction Sector Transparency Initiative. In parallel, we are advancing on plans to develop an open contracting index, likely within an existing measurement tool.

One of the biggest insights that I took away from the principles consultations is that even though we don’t have the roll-out completely figured out, the time to launch them is now. The advice that we got from our thinking partners in the room was, “Just do it’.This is exciting, so stay tuned: The principles are about to take off

Once we were clearer on the roll out of the principles, we dedicated our attention to an open contracting data standard. This standard will build on the principles and help governments and other agencies with smart disclosure of contracting data. And where better to do this than at the hip new office of the Open Data Institute, where leading data guruskindly helped us map out how to take forward standard development from our version 0.1.

In addition to fine tuning the open contracting principles and data standards, we had a two day working session with the open contracting steering group – a group of energetic and committed people who want to make open contracting the new normal.  In case you don’t know, the members of the steering group are the Construction Sector Transparency Initiative, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Integrity Action, the governments of Colombia and the Philippines, Oxfam America, Transparency International and us, the World Bank Institute.

Over two days of discussing, collaborating and bonding (the English pubs helped with the latter) we shaped how we will take open contracting forward. Firstly, the steering group agreed on a name, the Open Contracting Partnership, which was no small feat. We have been conscious for over a year about the strategic branding and the perception that a name carries. We tried several options on for size – including Lab, Initiative, Hub and even no name at all. We chose Partnership in the end because that’s what the steering group is about. We are a partnership that promotes open contracting. Open contracting is a norm and OCP (of course we already have an acronym) will spearhead its adoption.

We also made significant advances in what the OCP will offer.We are still in our early days and are fine tuning our products and services. Our version 1.0 of our offering will include principles, data standards, advocacy, implementation support and tools, research and measurement and a community of practice.

What does this mean in practice? We know that at a minimum we will endeavor to spread the open contracting principles, pilot data standards and work with the growing number of in-country champions. Open contracting truly comes alive at the local level, when citizens make information requests to access contracts or when parents participate in the tendering process of their child’ school lunch. We will make it our priority to encourage and support these champions. Increasingly we will document their efforts and share their stories and tools with the rest of the world.

We were not able to solve everything in London, like any start-up we are embracing learning by doing. Some more serious thinking and testing is ahead of us.  We still need to fine tune the roll out of the principles and decide how to best run the OCP. We are trying to find a balanced way to keep the OCP small and lean but at the same time being able to support the growing community of open contracting champions effectively. It was agreed that such support should find an independent home soon so as to escape the not always helpful shadow of the World Bank and ensure sustainability.

What’s ahead for us? Over the coming months we will finalize and launch the principles and work with initiatives, such as the Open Government Partnership and the G8, to promote them. We will continue to develop and test the data standard, also within our own organizations. We will dedicate a lot of attention to our partners in countries – the real test of open contracting will be ensuring the use of the information on the ground and actions in response. As much as we can, we want to support them in disclosing and monitoring contracts. We will also engage in fundraising and continue to fine tune the emerging offering and governance structure of the OCP.

Most importantly, we want to continue to engage with the open contracting community. We are committed to being an OPEN partnership, and we’d love to hear from you. If you have insights and ideas that you want to share with us, please do so.

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