Commissioning and the Big Society
Big Society has implications for effective commissioning, as budgets and accountability become increasingly devolved to community groups and away from councils and central government. OPM are part of the Springboard consortium delivering the Commissioning Support Programme (CSP) since 2008. Together with Kindle, CSP recently launched its own paper on the role of commissioning (and the commissioning cycle of understanding, planning, doing, and reviewing) in delivering the Big Society agenda.
The paper delivers practical advice to commissioners on how they can work better with the community and civil sector in their area to bring service delivery closer to the community, and to widen the range of providers involved in public service provision.
Key messages for commissioners include:
1. The importance of including community organisations and service users early on in the commissioning process, to make the most of their detailed understanding of community resources and needs.
2. The need to avoid the use of overly technical jargon which can be alienating and confusing for those who are new to the world of statutory delivery – keep things simple and user friendly!
3. The value of encouraging collaboration and partnership between voluntary sector organisations, to increase their capacity for responding to competitive tenders.
4. Provide support to community organisations throughout the commissioning process wherever possible – they may need advice and guidance if they haven’t been through a competitive tendering process before.
5. Robust review practices should be agreed. These should always be appropriate for the scale of the contract in question, and commissioners should explain the rationale behind monitoring and data requests so that they are fully understood by providers. Make the review and monitoring arrangements clear from the outset and try to agree these with the groups being commissioned at an early stage, so there are no surprises.
6. The importance of proper decommissioning processes and the need to explain the rational being used to inform decisions. Where possible provide support to organisations so they can continue to deliver in alternative contexts e.g. via grant funding.
By Lauren Roberts, OPM associate fellow and Sarah Holloway, OPM senior researcher