Buyers’ guide

The long-awaited report on public-sector design procurement from the Associate Parliamentary Design & Innovation Group has been released. Angus Montgomery assesses its implications for the design industry

The future landscape of public-sector design procurement will see a chief adviser for design sitting at Government level, and the Central Office of Information bypassed by consultancies, if proposals made in a new report become reality.

Design and the Public Good: Creativity vs the Procurement Process? has been written by the Associate Parliamentary Design & Innovation Group in association with the Design Business Association. The report proposes ten points broken down into three areas – knowledge, skills and process – that should be taken up by publicsector commissioners, although APDIG manager Jocelyn Bailey stresses the Government is under no obligation to ratify them.

We want to instigate something that people can own Deborah Dawton, chief executive of the Design Business Association

’It’s not a White Paper, so no-one is obliged to do anything,’ she says. The key recommendations are: that a chief adviser for design and innovation be appointed to champion design within Government; a design and procurement panel be formed to support those who make procurement decisions; that the COI should be given ’an appropriate role’ for design procurement; and that a single approach be taken to procuring design below the Official Journal of the European Union threshold, which is around £100 000.

Other recommendations made are that there should be a review of design spend, a campaign to raise the profile of design, a tailored training programme for design procurers, a best practice pilot for procurement, and an information and advisory service for both designers and procurers.

Julian Grice, chief executive of The Team and one of the APDIG panel members, says, ’What we wanted to do with this report was to highlight key areas and investigate them thoroughly, and then propose a menu of changes. The result is not one big thing, but a combination of smaller proposals.

We want to drive this forward by identifying potential partners, pilots and exemplary projects.’ DBA chief executive Deborah Dawton says, ’We want to instigate something that people can own. This was a really powerful lesson I took from the [2005] Cox Review – you can’t hold on to stuff and try to implement it yourself.’She says moves will now be made to sell the proposals to Government departments, following the report’s launch in Parliament last night.

Bailey adds that the Office for Government Commerce, senior figures of which gave evidence to the panel, has expressed an interest in the report. Expanding on the proposal to appoint a chief design adviser, she suggests that this should be a non-political, Civil Service position, occupied by someone familiar with both design and the commissioning process.

Bailey says parallels in other disciplines could be the chief adviser for construction, a newly created independent post reporting to the Department for Business Innovation & Skills and the Treasury, and the chief scientific adviser, a post held by biology professor John Beddington.

She also notes the difficulty of the COI operating as a commissioning body, while also having its own design capabilities, which would put it in direct competition with consultancies. The report says, ’Design-related activities currently handled by the COI… ought to be removed from the portfolio. The COI’s value is in providing a net saving on bulk purchase and repeat business.’ The report adds that services such as media or print could continue to be procured through the COI.

The report has been in the pipeline since the beginning of last year, and has been born out of a research-based process that has seen designers, commissioners, and policy experts quizzed in a Select Committee-style procedure chaired by Baroness Janet Whitaker.

Designer practitioners including The Alloy chairman Gus Desbarats and Applied Information Group chairman Kasper de Graaf gave evidence to the panel, alongside procurers such as OGC brand and design manager Andy Norman and policy experts including Nigel Keohane, senior researcher for the New Local Government Network.

The panel featured Baroness Estelle Morris, Dawton, Grice, Appetite chairwoman Laura Haines and David Godber, deputy chief executive of the Design Council. As reiterated by Dawton, the report comes off the back of the Cox Review on Creativity in Business. In its introduction, Sir George Cox says, ’Looking back on the five recommendations from my review, I have been gratified at the progress made in several areas.

The one that lags is seeing the public sector make greater use of the design talents that are abundant in the UK.’ Grice highlights the problems of public sector design procurement as being the volume of applications from designers, and the perception and experience among designers that the process can be complex and difficult.

The difficulty to benchmark design makes it hard for Government commissioners to evaluate its worth, he adds. Referring to the report’s recommendations, he says, ’While the proposals are interdependent, I think probably the most significant are the ones to raise the profile and knowledge of design among procurers. With better insight at a higher level, there would be better-skilled procurement officers, and they, in turn, would require a better procurement process to be in place.’

Frequent complaints from designers in the public sector

  • Miscommunication and misunderstandings between commissioners and procurers
  • Poor knowledge of how to write a design brief
  • Under-appreciation of design skills, including demands for free creative pitching

Source: Design and the Public Good: Creativity vs the Procurement Process?

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