“One of the reasons we don’t necessarily think RFPs are the best way to engage the creative insights of entrepreneurs and some of the most effective problem solvers in our society today is that we prescribe a solution in an RFP. There’s no opportunity for an entrepreneur or innovator to really work with a city through our traditional RFP process. To work on that, we are defining the problem correctly and ensuring that we also have access and exposure to the range of potential solutions.”
The above excerpt from the February 7th, 2014 Government Technology article “Philadelphia Innovates Public Procurement,” addresses an issue that we have suspected if not known but, were reluctant to possibly admit. I am of course talking about the fact that the traditional RFP process is based upon a static set of requirements at a particular point in time that may or may not be relevant over the life of a contract.
This is especially true when we are dealing with what expert author Andy Akrouche has called future-sourcing initiatives where neither the buyer nor the vendor have any real past experience. While I will defer to Akrouche’s expertise regarding the need to establish proper governance models that are based upon a sound Relationship Charter, one thing is certain; the broadly applied RFP model as we know it is not a viable tool when it comes to innovation driven acquisitions.
Within this context, the Philadelphia FastFWD approach looks interesting. The only questions are whether it is the only way to pursue this area of engagement, and if it is enough in terms of reversing the trend of failures that have plagued so many prior programs.
Regarding the first point – and bearing in mind that I still need to do a little more research on the Philadelphia model – my 2011 series on Procurement Contests certainly provided a solid assessment of a viable strategy for stimulating creative problem solving leading to the eventual implementation of a successful solution.
As for reversing the tide of past failures, I will once again come back to Akrouche and his position on establishing a proper governance model that is based on relationships as opposed to confining, penalty-driven contract legalese that does little to foster true collaboration. Unless the RFP process incorporates a truly effective partnering mechanism or relational framework into the selection process, I am inclined to believe that we will be no further ahead from where we are today.