The path to a better future for all begins with an informed citizenry.… Making contracting data more open builds trust between citizens and governments and allows them work together to ensure public resources are spent in the best way possible.
—Open Contracting Partnership Advisory Board Chair Robert Hunja, Former Director for Public Integrity and Openness in the World Bank’s Governance Global Practice
Government contracting with the Private Sector is estimated to be worth $9.5 trillion per year. The traditional processes for public contracts are shockingly vulnerable to corruption and mismanagement, partly because they are hidden from view. In response to the potential for large-scale corruption in this area, Reos Partners helped to cultivate the Open Contracting Partnership.
The Open Contracting Partnership, which now operates independently, seeks to establish new norms of disclosure and public scrutiny. The goal is to save governments money and time, prevent corruption and fraud, create a more level playing field for business, and ensure quality goods and services for citizens. Advocates have found that the need for the effort is most clear when contracts touch on basic services, such as health, education, roads, and water, where the poor have the most to lose.
In 2010, Reos Partners designed and facilitated a World Bank workshop that helped core stakeholders – GIZ, CoST, Integrity Action, Oxfam America, the Philippines government, Transparency International, and the World Bank Institute – identify contract monitoring as a key concern for the African extractives industry. In the subsequent years the Reos Partners team worked with this team to build the coalition and its commitment to Open Contracting.
In 2012, at a meeting in South Africa, a steering group of representatives from these public and civil society actors launched the Open Contracting Partnership (OCP). The OCP now runs independently, with the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation providing primary funding. It has also received major grants from the Omidyar Network and the Arnold Foundation.
Less a stand-alone organization than an advocacy group that connects, supports, and leverages the work of others, the OCP focuses on transformation in four areas:
- Transparency and disclosure of contracting data
- Business and civic engagement so that data gets used and scrutinized
- Accountability and redress
- Better solutions to public problems through dialogue and competition
The OCP has quickly positioned itself as a leading proponent of an evolving field. Because of its work, the term open contracting has been adopted internationally and across sectors.
The scale of the Open Contracting Partnership’s endeavor is daunting. Contracting between the world’s governments and the private sector is estimated to be worth $9.5 trillion per year.
Certain systemic issues are critical to successful implementation of open contracting:
- Most parties executing large contracts prefer to keep the details out of the public domain
- Large contracts are typically long, complex and hard for stakeholders without legal training to understand
- Public access to contracting data depends on widespread internet access.
- Scrutiny depends on the freedom and professionalism of the media, civil society and NGOs.
Open Contracting Data Standard
Contracts are often long and complex. For that reason, citizens, journalists, NGOs, and others can only “follow the money” if contracting data is consistently structured and comprehensible.Among the OCP’s first tasks was the creation of the Open Contracting Data Standard. This standard specifies the key documents and data that should be published at each stage of a contracting process and includes a fully documented open data model. Several countries are now in the process of implementing this protocol for presenting contract-related information.
Open Contracting Global Principles
The OCP has produced the Open Contracting Global Principles as an aspirational set of global norms and best practices for governments and organizations engaged in opening their procurement processes. The principles were created with input from nearly 200 representatives from government, the private sector, civil society, donor organizations, and international financial institutions.
New commitments to open contracting worldwide
With the OCP’s encouragement, more than 40 Open Government Partnership members have made commitments to open contracting. Five countries – Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay, Romania, and the United Kingdom – have explicitly mentioned the Open Contracting Global Principles in their national action plans.