It’s been five months since I last wrote ‘it ain’t dead!’ (I checked). And I have to keep saying it.
Yet because commissioning covers that (still vital) process of deciding which services (in-house, outsourced, third sector) are funded and which are not, it still gets bracketed with procurement, outsourcing, and contract management.
Can commissioning truly start from the assets and capabilities of citizens and communities? As we inch towards the post-Covid era, what opportunities and risks are opened up by the massive release of citizen and community assets during the pandemic?
‘Commissioning’ is misunderstood, denigrated, reduced to something else, and important. Often seen as just procurement, outsourcing, or a commercial activity, in fact it is about really achieving our goals as a society.
There are three versions of commissioning
1.0 started as a way to try to buy things effectively, thinking about the real needs, and learning from results. Commissioners were the centre of the universe, their budget what made everything happen
Imagine buying street cleaning services. Complicated, tough – but you sign the contract and things happen
Now think about how you achieve the goal of clean streets – it’s a much bigger picture
2.0 got us thinking about the outcomes we need, and how to get to them – immediately making the commissioner a humbler part of a much bigger, complex system
3.0 means thinking about what people are already doing and achieving for themselves – how can we help our community and businesses to have clean streets?
In each step, the commissioner gives up their centrality. And gains more power
Where could you play on a bigger stage – and step up from clever buying to outcomes focus to a strengths focus?
It also acknowledges that the brilliant ‘clean streets’ example comes from Dr Carolyn Wilkins OBE.
And that effective, strategic procurement – the quality of thinking, of contracting, contract management, marketing shaping and market engagement needed to buy the street cleansing services that are needed as part of that – is still important and valuable.
The core approach that characterises the sort of commissioning that I believe now needs to be seen as just part of a much bigger picture has most recently been used by The King’s Fund, the identify needs/specify requirements/purchase/contract manage/learn cycle which was introduced in the World Class Commissioning programme in 2010 (predating the Lansley reforms).
And the model of thinking about the real outcomes that people get in their own lives, and the way commissioners can play a humble role in the complex system that creates those results, was also being talked about by Richard Selwyn at exactly the same period.
Of course, all these ideas have a much longer heritage, and are still being explored deeply, and not just in the UK. For thinking about commissioning’s long history and the significant contribution it still has to make, I recommend the work of Professor Gary Sturgess in Australia, where the word still has enormous value, perhaps because it was never simplified and standardised in the way it was in the UK.