Gov Buys Innovation is a modern version of public procurement, axed on the active search for innovative solutions available on the market. By reconsidering the way of interaction between the public and the private sector, we aspire to transform public entities into pioneers for new creative ideas, modernising countries in the benefit of private companies and all citizens.
A procedure with Gov Buys Innovation allows the public service to cooperate with businesses in a manner that is different to classic public procurement. We start by posting “challenges”, which are clear open questions, determining all necessary specifications, but leaving enough space for creativity. The civil servant calling for tenders will hereby take on a new role of expert of the problem, instead of expert of all possible solutions. If the public administration desires to have an overview of possible solutions or wants to have an insight about which types of contracts and experimentation paths to use, Nido offers help in conducting market consultations prior to a challenge.
In order to gather the broadest possible range of solutions, Nido makes public tenders accessible and easy to process for all types of businesses. Nido also tries to reach all possible candidates by contacting hubs, networks and groups channelling specific categories of providers, as well as businesses and inviting them to participate in a challenge. To reduce the administrative burden for the participants, application processes are organised in three phases. First, businesses introduce a brief description of their idea and an explanation of their vision on how it could solve the problem in question. The second stage consists of a pitch with a discussion and if possible a proof of concept. The final round is the actual introduction of a negotiable offer.
After every phase all solutions are evaluated and graded and businesses receive extensive feedback on how their idea was perceived. Companies whose results were not withheld to a next phase are also provided with comprehensive feedback, in order for them to enhance their product or idea and to learn how to collaborate with public administration. This staggered procedure allows businesses of all sizes and resources to introduce a tender, given that they are only encouraged to put effort into the procedure as long as they have a realistic chance of it being awarded to them. Also Nido’s constant follow up allows businesses that are not familiar working with government institutions to participate without gathering too much expertise beforehand.
A procedure via Gov Buys Innovation allows to only buy experimentation. To participate in a call for tenders, businesses therefore do not need the in-house capability to produce their product on a large scale. Evidently, tested solutions can be further developed and eventually be implemented if information gathered during experimentation proves to be successful. Our platform can also be used as a marketplace for meaningful dialogues between civil servants and creative businesses in a direct and transparent way. Ideas that were not chosen to be tested or experimented solutions that turned out not to be a perfect fit, will be presented on our platform, in order for other institutions to possibly adopt them. We have the ambition to form a point of contact for companies wanting to help the government innovate and provide their innovative solutions. Our approach is however also interesting for the public service, as it promotes experimenting to avoid big projects failing and tax money being wasted.
All challenges are evaluated by a jury consisting of the most important stakeholders for a project, being civil servants from the challenging government institution, experts on the field of the challenge and experts in innovation from Nido. Throughout the three short evaluation phases, submitted ideas are assessed on the following criteria: effectiveness, prospects of success, innovative or unique character, expected professionalism of the business in carrying out the experiment, achievability of a final implementation, price and team. Evaluation is bundled into consistent feedback which is communicated to each company individually. The companies may ask for this assessment to be expanded at any time, ensuring a fully transparent procedure and allowing companies to learn from their participation.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The staggered application procedure allows for even the smallest businesses to participate. The approach also allows all involved to learn in each step of the procedure. The "challenge-owner" can learn about new opportunities in the market. Businesses learn how to work with government agencies, while improving their product due to the feedback that the jury gives them.
Given that all businesses can share their products on our platform and can directly interact with civil servants, Gov Buys Innovation allows new solutions to spread more easily amongst public entities. It also stimulates the market for innovation. New products tested and funded by public entities will get visible on the private level as well. As these more creative initiatives will actually reach all potential customers, businesses will be able to afford more out-of-the-box thinking. This leads to an eco-system of creativity, making innovation always more attainable.
What is the current status of your innovation?
Gov Buys Innovation is fully implemented and growing steadily. So far Gov Buys Innovation has focussed on only local businesses and solutions. Our main goal was to be well known and have a regular inflow of possible solutions from businesses all over the country. We are now almost ready to scale up and accept solutions from companies from all over Europe. With a greater influx of ideas, the solutions offered will also become increasingly fitting and innovative.
The Gov Buys Innovation procedure is not fully automated yet, but it is already open to all Belgian administrations and businesses and is evolving towards more automation with every challenge being launched. Nido plans to update it to a fully intuitive platform by mid-2023, with many different functionalities and with a fully autonomous marketplace on which public entities and businesses interact.
We share our lessons learned with other innovators on our networking platform "Network Innovation".
Collaborations & Partnerships
Gov Buys Innovation could not work without the cooperation of public entities and businesses. The approach was developed after research, design thinking sessions, sharing of insights and cocreation with SMEs and civil servants. We now regularly conduct customer journey inquiries with businesses and feedback sessions for challenge-owners and juries. All of these allow us to learn from our mistakes, gather new inspiration and shape our procedure to be as clear and lean as possible.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
70% of civil servants would recommend our platform and it allowed 77% to be more innovative. 92% expect the platform to impact the innovation culture within their department. 60% of the companies are SMEs, which would be too small to participate in classic tenders. One company in three has participated in several challenges and 90% ask to be invited to future challenges. The academic world and international audiences are recommending our project: eg. various universities, United Nations, EIPA...
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
In the last two years Gov Buys Innovation has managed to attract more than 50 businesses and accompanied six public procurement projects. Four challenges have fully passed the evaluation and experimentation stage. Three market consultations have shown what is to be expected from the industry and how a challenge should be drawn up. A challenge that was published both on our platform and the classic procurement way, has leas to 25 submissions by 14 businesses through our approach and to two submissions by one business the classic way.
Public authorities as well as companies are increasingly open to our project. We are receiving more requests from government agencies for exploratory talks to start a challenge and former challenge-owners are coming back for further cooperation. Also government decision-makers help us to find the right group of officials for a specific project. We anticipate the number of challenges to double in the next year.
Challenges and Failures
Convincing civil servants with much expertise in public tendering processes of this alternative approach can be challenging. Classic public procurement is quite bureaucratic and civil servants tend to believe that to be mandatory by law. Therefore the question regularly rises whether Gov Buys Innovation is even legal. In order for others to succeed with this approach it is advisable to be backed by experts with the right authority to demonstrate that this type of tendering process is within the boundaries of the law.
It might for instance be useful to include in-house lawyers in the innovation team or to hire external experts in order to have enough backing to take away all possible concerns. To make the approach a success it is crucial to work only with challenge-owners that are open to change and excited to put in the extra effort. Participants who adhere to the classical administrative procedures in their way of thinking let the approach fail.
Conditions for Success
A maximum of de-bureaucratisation, a simple and straight forward procedure, quick processing times, approachability and feedback are imperative for this approach to be successful. Most innovative businesses do not have the resources to do much paper work and process extensive application procedures. The tendering process must be as similar as possible to the classic publicity pitches that businesses do on a regular basis.
A lean procedure is also of interest for the civil servants in question, as it does save them time and resources too. Moreover, in order to make it interesting for businesses to participate even if they are not granted a tender, it is imperative that they receive extensive feedback and that there is a clear and open communication. This allows businesses to learn and improve their product and convinces them that the procedure is fair and that they thus had an honest chance of being awarded the tender.
Criticism on modernisation in administration is quite similar in many countries. As Gov Buys Innovation does not require any special expertise or infrastructure, it is easily implementable in any administrative context. Its core idea could be replicated in any country, at any level and with minimal effort. As long as civil servants can have some assistance by lawyers specialised in public procurement, any public entity with an interest in innovation, ideation and design thinking could adopt our approach to their workspace.
Adaptation is only necessary with regard to templates, evaluation criteria and possibly communication, given that these may be different due to context and culture. Finding innovative tenders should definitely be affordable for public entities, even without sponsors. After all, a public administration would also have to provide the budget for a conventional procurement procedure. That same budget can thus be spent on the innovative approach.
Gov Buys Innovation is axed to introduce more innovation in all public entities, by encouraging them to experiment with inventive ideas and products from all private businesses open to cooperation and cocreation. It is to be seen as a first step in a procurement procedure, when there is a possibility for the tender to be sourcing innovation. It widely broadens the possibilities to explore the market and to introduce innovation into classic procurement in an accessible and easy manner.
In contrast to common procurement practises, our staggered application procedure allows for even the smallest businesses to participate. The transformative approach caters to the necessities of smaller businesses, particularly SMEs and start-ups, in order to allow their possible input to reach the public level. The leaner and easier procedure also intuitively encourages civil servants to include innovation in their tenders, so that all will be willing to work in this manner again in the future.
- Diffusing Lessons - using what was learnt to inform other projects and understanding how the innovation can be applied in other ways
26 January 2023