Gathering information to assess real needs
When you decide to implement SPP, you should not only consider how you will select the most sustainable option, but also ensure that there is a real need for the goods, services, or works that you are going to purchase. Sometimes, you might find that the most sustainable option is to avoid procuring anything at all. To avoid purchasing unnecessarily, and ensure that procuring the right thing, it is essential to conduct a needs assessment before launching a tender.
In this section, we present some of the key information that should be gathered in order to successfully identify real needs, and ensure a more open and sustainable procurement process.
Identify user needs
In order to conduct a successful needs assessment, it is important to have a clear understanding of who the users are, and gather required information to identify their needs. Think of how to design the procurement with them, not just for them.
The first step consists in identifying relevant users, which will vary depending on the subject of the contract. These can be public service workers, or users of public services. For example, when thinking about what catering services to procure for a hospital, engaging with both hospital patients and staff will result in a more accurate description of user needs.
Once users are identified, different methods can be used to gather the needed data. These can include:
- Distributing questionnaires.
- Setting up an online survey.
- Carrying out observation and analysis to understand the ways current services are used.
- Conducting interviews or organising focus groups with different users.
Depending on the size of the contract being considered, this research can also be commissioned to a third party.
Some of the outputs from the user research will include:
- A profile of different types of users.
- Information on the needs for different types of users.
- Experience and issues found using current available services.
- A projection of how these needs might grow and evolve.
This information will inform:
- The type of resources that are needed, or the outcome that is expected from these resources (i.e. a 300W radiator vs. an office heated to 20 - 22 degrees).
- The quantity of resources needed, or the frequency in which specific services are needed.
- Any technical requirements that should be included in the contract regarding user needs. For example, when considering procuring new office IT, this process should inform any needed accessibility requirements for users.
Sharing the needs assessment process is an essential part of Open SPP. Public authorities should openly share how user research has informed decisions regarding new contracts. Being transparent about this process will help to gain the stakeholder’s trust, and minimise corruption risks.
Case Study Italy’s central purchasing body, CONSIP, has used this user-centered approach effectively in the medical sector, working directly with medical staff to shape tender documents for use across the country.
CONSIP agrees the tender specifications in consultations with doctors' groups and scientific associations, while tenders are frequently drafted by medical professionals themselves. This prioritizes product quality which is vital for medical use. Devices that meet the contract’s financial requirements and specifications are tested by doctors and nurses in their hospitals, which then award the final contract on the basis of the product’s performance.
The system has been widely praised by both medical professionals and suppliers, leading to its implementation on a regional as well as national level.
Consider alternative procurement options
Once user needs have been identified, it is important to assess different procurement options in order to find one that meets user’s needs in the most sustainable way possible.
Public authorities should assess whether instead of purchasing new products, current resources can be reused to meet identified needs. Another option can be to issue a tender for repairing and upgrading current resources, promoting circular use and minimizing waste. To identify available resources to reuse, repair, or upgrade, it can also be useful to establish an online channel to exchange products and services between authorities.
Instead of purchasing new goods, sometimes leasing can be a good alternative. Leasing new products can lead to reuse of existing products, and minimize waste, promoting the circular use of resources.
Joint procurement can help to create stronger demand for green products and services, which can consequently encourage the supplier market to invest in sustainable alternatives. By aggregating their needs through joint procurement, public authorities essentially offer suppliers the opportunity to win more than one contract through one single tender submission. Minimizing the resources needed to access this revenue can encourage more suppliers to invest in sustainable alternatives. For more information on joint procurement see this section.
Framing user needs in terms of outcomes can help to encourage innovative sustainable suggestions from suppliers (i.e. asking for an office to be heated to 20-22 degrees vs asking for a 300W radiator.). For more information on outcomes-based procurement see the Harvard Kennedy School’s Government Performance Lab and this section.
Formulate a needs statement
Once you have identified the needs, you should translate them into a needs statement. The statement should include information about the needs identified, and the procurement alternatives that have been considered.
For an example of a needs statement, page 2 of the European Commission’s Module 4, provides the following: ”The Department has identified a need for 6 smart screens for use in its 12 meeting rooms. The screens will facilitate web-conferencing and reduce the need for document printing.
Based on user consultation, a maximum of 6 meetings requiring screens are held at any one time.
The existing projectors consume a large amount of energy and often break down.
The Department will consider proposals for leasing the screens under a service contract.”
The needs statement should be openly shared with the relevant stakeholders, and used to inform market engagement activities. It is important to identify whether the needs assessment falls under one of the prioritized procurement categories, and if there are any relevant objectives and targets set that you should consider during the procurement process.
Case Study Public Health Wales (PHW) is the national public health agency in Wales. In 2016, they decided to relocate nine smaller satellite offices into one new, large 4,700 m2 open plan office in central Cardiff. To do this, PHW released a tender for the design of office space and supply of furniture. PHW decided to include a series of sustainability requirements as part of the tender, and included an inventory of all furniture which was owned by the organization. The winning bid came from a consortium of a sustainable office design service, and a community interest company.
In the end, out of the 2.563 items used in the new office 45% of items were re-used, 49% were remanufactured, and only 6% of items were sourced from new stock. In total, it is estimated that by re-using available resources, 41 tonnes of waste were diverted from landfill, and the project saved around 134 tonnes of CO2.