The CoST open contracting journey

From 28th - 29th November, CoST and other organisations will convene 200 key innovators in Amsterdam for Open Contracting 2017. In our latest blog, we take the opportunity to respond to research carried out ahead of the event and to clarify the role of CoST in open contracting. 

We are excited to be joining influencers and innovators from many countries in Amsterdam for Open Contracting 2017 (#OCGLOBAL17). As one of the event sponsors, collaborating with practitioners from all over the world is central to what we do. And #OCGLOBAL17, which places emphasis on hearing and actioning the views of those involved, will only add value to our new business plan and help to take open contracting in public infrastructure to the next level.

Since its launch in 2012, CoST has had significant impact on improving lives, saving money and delivering quality in very diverse settings. But recently, research undertaken in preparation for #OCGLOBAL17 revealed that it is not widely understood that CoST – the Infrastructure Transparency Initiative is an open contracting programme with a focus on public infrastructure.

In the spirit of listening to the open contracting community, we’re responding to this research by mapping the CoST approach onto the Open Contracting Step-by-Step Journey. This user-friendly schematic comprises seven key steps – from an initial design phase through to mapping, building, publishing, using, learning and showing.

Step 1: Design 

7 steps guidance - open contracting journeyA CoST National programme is designed by a team involving key government, industry and civil society actors within a Multi-Stakeholder Group (MSG). The MSG functions like a board, agreeing the strategy and exercising oversight of the open contracting reform effort in public infrastructure. A Secretariat is established that brings together policy and technical expertise to deliver the strategy. Key to a successful MSG and Secretariat is ensuring that the ‘rules of the game’ are established upfront, so that consensus, mutual respect and trust is built between the partners.

Step 2: Map

Mapping data that has been disclosed against a recognised standard is a crucial element to any open contracting programme. Our approach is to commission a Scoping Study that goes beyond matching the technical data to include understanding the broader context. This includes mapping:

  • The CoST Infrastructure Data Standard (IDS) against the current legal requirements for publishing infrastructure data and then comparing it with actual practice.
  • The roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders including the extent of civil society participation in delivering public infrastructure and the incentives and barriers affecting their participation in open contracting.
  • The challenges of delivering existing infrastructure plans and future needs.  

This approach ensures that the challenges are understood and an approach to open contracting in public infrastructure can be developed that responds to the political, economic and social context.

Step 3: Build

Step 3 focuses on innovation - including adapting systems and building new tools to collect and transform data. The Scoping Study helps to identify the barriers affecting open contracting which then allows for:

  • The CoST IDS can be adapted to match user needs. We have found that this approach typically leads to additional data items being incorporated into the Standard
  • The development of disclosure platforms which allow the data disclosed to be published, preferably in open data format 

Step 4: Publish

Belize Bridge, Guatemala

This part of the journey focuses on developing a publication policy. This involves enhancing the existing legal framework relating to disclosure, to help ensure that the IDS is institutionalised. The legal mandate is often incorporated into public procurement legislation. In Malawi for example, the new Public Procurement Act (2017) makes it mandatory for procuring entities to disclose information in the IDS format.    

A disclosure manual is developed to help ensure compliance with the legal mandate and a training programme for public officials helps them to meet their responsibilities. Using this approach, CoST Guatemala has so far published data on over 6000 projects and trained over 1000 officials.

Step 5: Use

Step 5 looks at making the information accessible. Transparency translates into accountability when the public and other stakeholders are informed and can hold decision-makers to account.

CoST looks at the published data and checks it for accuracy and completeness through an Assurance Process. This involves independent experts examining data from a sample of projects and translating technical information into key messages and where necessary, highlighting issues of concern. These concerns can include unjustified cost increases and delays in construction, failure to meet specifications, non-compliance with procurement procedures and inadequate project preparation. The findings are then published in an assurance report and used as the basis for civil society, the media and other stakeholders to hold decision-makers to account.

Step 6: Learn

CoST places a high value on sharing lessons between members. One way we do this is through regular workshops and lesson learning exchanges between members. This has led for example, to the Governments in Malawi and Panama adopting SISOCs – a user-friendly, open source disclosure portal for infrastructure projects developed by the Government of Honduras. This illustrates the commitment to learning and sharing amongst CoST members. The Government of Honduras has expressed its willingness to provide a free license for CoST members to develop their own version of SISOCs.

Step 7: Show

Whilst improvements in open contracting have intrinsic value, ultimately, it’s important to show how it has contributed towards improving the delivery of affordable, accessible and resilient infrastructure. CoST may only have been launched in 2012, but it already has a rapidly growing track record of achievement including improvements to budgeting and project preparation in Guatemala, cost savings on a rural road in Ethiopia, identifying poor construction quality in Ukraine and the cancellation of road contracts in Malawi stopping further waste of public funds.

We look forward to sharing these stories with you in Amsterdam and to learning from some of the Worlds’ leading policy-makers and practitioners. 

Date Published: 27 November 2017
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