Procuring Innovation in The GovTech Sector

Piers Kelly

Public-private collaboration has long been a cornerstone of offering services to communities across the country. Now more than ever, there’s demand for the public sector to collaborate with private companies to secure innovation within the public domain. 

procuring innovation in the govtech sector

With the latest updates to procurement, in terms of what private companies are offering and what procurement teams should look for, the focus is on securing innovative, effective collaborations that still provide value for money. 

So how can these partnerships be properly utilised? What does it take to create them and ensure secured innovation?

The Current Climate for Collaboration and Innovation

March 2020 denoted a distinct change in how public and private organisations collaborate. COVID-19 impacted the delivery of countless projects across the country and many public sector organisations found themselves focused on tackling the problems the pandemic posed. 

From spikes in healthcare demands to the need for a national coordinated response, the climate for public-private partnerships has been forever altered, with everyone from SMEs to multinationals offering their services and insights. 

Currently, there are six ways innovation is driving collaboration within the public sector:

  • Collaboration brings together groups with different backgrounds and ideas spurring creativity. This is especially true of public-private collaborations, which provide the public sector with the distinct advantages of private sector experience. 
  • These different backgrounds (alongside a varied base of resources to draw from) mean problems and challenges can be better defined and understood.
  • Collaboration ensures joint ownership and risk sharing, meaning implementation will be less likely to fall foul of inefficiencies or mistakes.
  • Collaboration provides avenues for knowledge sharing and the dissemination of practices directly linked to innovation.
  • Any project or practice created can be better assessed by people sourced from a diverse range of sectors and disciplines. 
  • Collaboration better ensures that compromise can be found, which reduces the chance of stalemates arising as well as balancing the influence and interests of involved parties. 

Through the collaboration between the public sector, social entrepreneurs and businesses, there’s the potential for more robust and innovative solutions emerging from those partnerships. 

The Challenges for Public-Private Collaboration

Public-private collaboration requires a lot of preparation and buy-in. There are considerations, risks, opportunities and pitfalls in procurement and implementation stages - each of which has its own probabilities for causing failures for these partnerships. 

One of the initial challenges is securing buy-in and talent. Public-private collaboration naturally lends itself to requiring people with interdisciplinary talents so development and implementation go off without a hitch. The nature of these projects may mean they develop slowly, while also incurring new or unfamiliar regulatory compliance needs. There’s even a chance for these types of projects to become politicised. 

There also needs to be shared understanding and consensus about what the project requires and entails. The scope of what's being promised needs to be accurately determined, with considerations for strategies that deal with eventualities such as failure to deliver on what was agreed upon in the contract. 

Similarly, each contract will incur the concerns of key stakeholders. It’s possible there may be unresolvable differences between what one stakeholder requires and what an organisation can deliver, such as a change to a service or an inability to private a guarantee. Any of these could lead to failure, meaning innovation will remain out of reach. 

So why is it so important to get private-public collaboration planning right? Because the presence of multiple stakeholders, inherent risks and the need for specific skills all increase the chance of failure. And with failure comes financial costs and political and public embarrassment also. 

So, how do you secure innovation?

The Next Steps for Securing Innovation

It’s becoming increasingly well-known that developing partnerships with industry can be a valuable method of gaining access to different skill sets, innovative working practices or technology and even additional capital. To begin with, before partnerships, local government could create public-private idea hubs - areas for sharing ideas and solutions, disseminating them across the public sector.

This can be extended in the form of the public sector making use of the various kinds of innovative technologies available within the private field. Making use of emerging and disruptive technologies is how public sector organisations can truly set themselves apart. 

These organisations need to understand the scope of innovation within their respective fields to make full use of the capabilities of disruptive technologies. Developing a thorough understanding of the needs of an organisation alongside how technology can effectively meet those needs will help to create a much better value proposition across the board, rather than focusing on singular use cases. 

The use of emerging technologies isn’t a new practice within the public sector. However, the focus now is adopting new technology with buy-in from key stakeholders and then using that technology to the best of its potential.

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