Commissioning for clean streets involves more than just procuring a cleaning service ©PA Images
Commissioning for clean streets involves more than just procuring a cleaning service ©PA Images

The five principles of commissioning

30 June 2017

The public sector needs to think more holistically about how they meet the needs of citizens when commissioning services.

Commissioners need to focus less on meeting demand and rationing resources and instead try to understand the underlining reasons people are using public services, said Benjamin Taylor, a commissioning consultant.

“Most [commissioners] didn’t go into public services to be processing demand,” he said. “I don’t know anyone who wants to turn up each day to be an efficient gatekeeper.”

Speaking at the Public Sector Show, Taylor, chief executive of the Public Service Transformation Academy, shared his five principles to take public sector commissioning into the future.

1. Look for the need 

Commissioners need to look behind the demand and address the individual needs and motivations that are pushing people towards public services. For example, commissioning for clean streets might involve procuring a cleaning service, “but you’re going to be thinking about what causes people to drop litter”.

Commissioning is “a much broader picture than procuring” and really good strategic procurement people already look up and downstream to think about community needs.

“If we look behind the demand we’ll find that there is always a need that drives the demand. A need in somebody’s life that leads them to try to have recourse to public services.”

2. Think broadly about your resources

You have more than just your budget. Think about the capabilities of the individuals and communities you work with, what the market has to offer, what technology has to offer and what partners and what civil society can do to plug the gaps.

Commissioners should also move away from service specifications because they give a false sense of certainty. “Understand that outcomes are complex and problematic and they’re different for individuals… Instead of saying, 'How can we spend all the inputs to achieve all the outcomes', start to think about, 'What are the interventions that will take us from those resources to some of the outcomes?'”

3. Give people clear limitations

The secret to good management is to give people very clear limitations, and then maximum freedom within those boundaries. “If you give people too much or too little freedom, it paralyses them and stops them from using their own capability, their brains, to deliver.”

4. Take responsibility for things out of your control

The public sector is good at judging itself only on what it can control, but Taylor doesn’t think that’s good enough. “I don’t want you to accept blame, but I want you to accept responsibility,” because only then will commissioners learn to change things on the ground.

5. Test in the real world

Accept nothing less than real-world feedback. “You might think you learn some things here today… but until you’ve tested it and proven it in the real world, with real people, around public service outcomes, I don’t think you’ve got the right to say that you’ve learned anything.”

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