Open source tendering – New Model or New Madness?

Scroll down and you can listen to David Wilcox talking about what I suspect is a unique experiment in producing an online open source collaborative tender for the £1.2 million Cabinet Office programme to create an Innovation Exchange for the Voluntary Sector. David explains the process with relevant links here , and you can see where the online collaboration took place through this link. The picture (find it here) is of Simon Berry of Ruralnet UK delivering the bid documents last week. The smile says a lot.

So what’s it all about? The Third Sector Minister Ed Miliband was looking for “a partner to deliver a new £1.2m Innovation Exchange – a programme to support the third sector’s capacity to innovate. The Innovation Exchange programme aims to provide third sector innovators with access to the people and potential capital they need to make their ideas a reality”

In short share knowledge to improve the way the sector delivers public services.

As David explains in the interview he and others wondered why such a bid couldn’t be created collaboratively and in public. As he says, their consortium thought about playing some cards (their best cards) close to their chest, then chose to go the whole hog. Everything they were proposing could be seen, and evolved in public. So what can we make of this:

New Madness?:

Clearly competitors know what you’re proposing and can nick the best ideas and neutralise or undermine others. The collaborators though placed copyright restrictions. Anything lifted from the bid had to be credited. If it was then developed and evolved competitors were asked to put that back onto the site. Naieve? Perhaps, we’ll know eventually.
Who does the government deal with? A shifting collaborative process has many stakeholders, but ultimately the people handing out the money will want to know who’s head is on the block – who is resonsible for delivering. hat may give and internally generated single organisation a stornger hand.

After that though I’m struggling with the problem of madess because for me it is a really a
New Model:

Closed doors, closed minds. Cards to the chest bidding can lead to bidders being blind to the best ideas. The open source tender had at least 500 minds involved.
Planning and delivery are different.… Often the people who will have to deliver are not involved in the bid. Someone comes along to them afterwards and says we thought you could do this for this much money. The open process could solve many of those problems earlier.
It raises everyones’ game. With an open source bid in the frame all the competitiors have find ways of beating that bid in terms of ideas and value for money. that can be good news for the public.
It builds flexibility into delivery. By collaborating openly at all stages it should be much easier to innovate along the life of the contract. It also creates transparency in delivering, which should make it easier for full feedback whilst the contract is delivered.
The winner can still involve the losers. As david says, if their bid wins one of the first things they’ll do is talk to the losers. likewise if another bid wins it may make sense for them to approach the consorium for input.
You never know where the ideas will come from. Online collaboaration improves the chances of bright new notions coming form unexpected places.
It challenges old ways of working – which with government can often be a great thing.
Losing is a good thing – well not really, but if an open source bid fails a much wider range of people have learnt from the process and learnt from the failure.

So all of this is why I’ve nominated this project for the Modernising Government category of the New Statesman New Media awards. Anything which brings more minds and more doers to the business of solving public problems is good in my book.

The bid partners are

RNUK Ltd, Delib Ltd, nfp 2.0, Partnerships Online, UnLtd and Warwick Business School. Contributors included Policy Unplugged, Sheffield Hallam University, National Rural Exchange, Common Purpose, Team Rubber, Work Empowerment Foundation, Unique Social Enterprise, Matrix Research & Consultancy, Switch On Shropshire, Local Level and others.