ICT and innovation matter in procurement, say civil servants

23 Oct 2018 | Published by Amandine Lerusse

Illustration: colourbox.com

TROPICO wants to understand how public authorities consider environmental, social and innovative criteria when collaborating with the private sector. Therefore, TROPICO invited civil servants in five countries (Belgium, Estonia, Germany, Norway and Spain) to participate in a survey, designed quite innovatively, about their preferences in public procurement and their willingness to pay for including such criteria. The preliminary results of TROPICO’s work package 3 suggest that Estonian civil servants have strong preferences for the ICT dimension. Indeed, civil servants are willing to spend more money (about 9 euros more) for a company that offers an ICT dimension. This finding tends to support the Global Innovation Index of 2018  where Estonia was ranked 24th worldwide and considered as a considerably innovative country.

Since 1997, Estonia has developed several e-governance tools, like a digital ID, I-voting, E-health and E-residency. Although these digital advancements have many advantages and diminish the administrative burden for many Estonian citizens, they may also exclude those who are not familiar with new technologies, such as elderly people or disadvantaged groups. The preliminary survey results from our study show that the environmental and social criteria do not seem to matter for Estonian local civil servants. While the environmental and social criteria are mainly linked to the features of the company itself (e.g. environmental impact of the company, inclusion of vulnerable groups), the ICT dimension is the only factor directly aimed at the users of a service. This may have a direct influence on civil servants’ decision to favour the ICT dimension in procurement. In Estonia, innovation is at the centre of policymaking. Regarding the other countries, although data collection is still ongoing, we do not expect the innovative criteria to have as much importance.

The European Union legislation on procurement promotes the integration of environmental, social and innovative criteria into procurement. In 2008, the European Union published a document that stresses the benefits of green public procurement. In 2011, the European Commission distributed its “Buying social” guide aimed at supporting public institutions to buy goods and services with a social ambition. The guide highlights that buying goods and services with a social character can positively influence social inclusion.

More recently, the Commission´s “Guidance on Innovation Procurement” (May 2018) was published. This document has several purposes: (1) it aims at explaining the meaning of innovation procurement, (2) it describes how to organize the fundamental policy framework in order to benefit from the use of innovation procurement, (3) it outlines how public services can be improved by employing innovative approaches through public procurement measures and (4) it stresses how growth and employment can be created throughout Europe. Although the European Union has put quite a lot of effort in elaborating all these documents, the process through which these criteria are integrated into procurements at the national level remains blurred to public authorities. Work Package 3 of the TROPICO project aims at clarifying this particular point.