1. Through your work and publications, you suggest that cities need to reinvent ways of delivering local services more focused on citizen participation, innovation and local business development – how should local authorities do this?

“In Europe, like anywhere in the world, citizens have a simple expectation of their local government: ‘Solve my problems – effectively and fast’. This is a very simple instruction! We like to hold this up against the way government works to scope needs, specify solutions and deliver services. Can we really assure our citizens that we are deploying the best available solution to meet their needs? Are we not often re-inventing the wheel, delaying delivery unnecessarily?

The numbers are eye-opening but important: 557,000 local authorities spend 10% of world GDP every year, through millions of procurement transactions. Each of these transactions should be well informed not just regarding the problem it is solving, but ensuring it is the best solution available. At Citymart, we found that on average, local authoritiess know just 3% of available solutions when they write specifications for a tender.

Looking at these numbers, we concluded that we simply cannot expect local government to reliably design the best solutions to community needs. We need to turn procurement on its head, using it to solve problems by engaging the market to inspire us.”

2. In your experience, what are the main challenges in changing the nature of public procurement as it stands to improve social cohesion and more sustainable local communities?

“We see a misalignment of the definition of procurement, our day-to-day practice, and the citizen’s expectation that it should solve problems. We found that in most local authorities, there is a myth that procurement is very complex and makes everything impossible. It turns out, that when you look at the legal text it broadly says the same things repetitively: ‘Know your need. Engage the market. Allow fair competition.’
Probably the biggest challenge is the fear of the unknown. But we are seeing a clear turning point. Today, you would not find anyone in government, business or society saying that public procurement works.

3. Having worked in cities of all sizes across the world, how do you think local communities can become a powerhouse for social as well as economic development?

“Really, the best way to imagine where I think our future lies is to think about our communities as truly collaborative. Or, as Bill Drayton, the Founder of Ashoka puts it: “Everyone is a Change-maker"”. What this means is that by transcending our traditional expectations that government will fix things we can really democratise social progress.

Much of this is already under way. In many cities, like Bristol in the UK, Barcelona in Spain or Malmö in Sweden, cities have published challenges for new ideas to solve urgent social problems like racism or social cohesion. Companies and organizations, both local and outsiders, have a lot to offer. Currently, together with the Mayor of London, we’re completing a program that helps start-ups work with communities of chronically ill residents to re-invent local services and pitch them jointly to government.

I hope that in the future no resident – public official, entrepreneur or citizen alike – will walk away from a social problem. Instead, we should build the structures for anyone to take the initiative and collaborate to solve problems. Government procurement should become the facilitator of this change, providing valuable resources and guaranteeing stability.

View the full  programme here. There is still time to register!

You can read the extended version of the interview on the European Social Services Conference website.