Citymart helps U.S. cities rethink public procurement to unlock civic innovation and citizen engagement

Public procurement by local governments accounts for the world’s single largest budget dedicated to improving our communities – roughly $1 trillion annually in the U.S. alone. Despite this staggering potential, public procurement the world over is plagued by an opaque, confusing, and often impenetrable process.

In traditional procurement, companies bid to develop solutions prescribed by the city using requests for proposals (RFPs). Often, RFPs are loaded with specifications, terms and conditions, and legal clauses that make it almost impossible for small businesses or entrepreneurs to participate. As a result, most contracts are awarded to only a handful of large vendors who are well-versed in navigating a complex system. In Barcelona, for example a traditional $1.5 million procurement budget attracts interest from only 20 vendors. This leaves out a wide swath of potential sources of innovation and holds governments back from delivering services most effectively to citizens.

Citymart, a global organization focused on civic innovation has found a way to open up the government procurement process. They set out to replace the hundreds of pages of detailed specifications in RFPs with a simple problem statement and explanation of the desired result. With this problem-based approach, Citymart is able to help cities identify and frame community needs in a user-friendly RFP process. The bidding is then uploaded to the CItymart online collaborative open-source platform for anyone to access.

Citymart’s RFP process levels the playing field in public contracts for everyone from global vendors to social entrepreneurs, designers, and even residents. In Barcelona, a recent $1.5 million RFP published with Citymart attracted 55,000 citizens and entrepreneurs to deliver solutions to combat bicycle theft. The process not only helps cities deliver better quality services at lower costs, it also accomplishes this without increasing risks for the administration. Most importantly, it gets more citizens to engage directly with everyday acts of city governance, reinforcing transparency and accountability in the public sphere.

To date, more than 50 cities have adopted Citymart, including London, Paris, Barcelona, San Francisco, Fukuoka and Mexico City. Organized in a #citiesshare alliance, these partner cities work together with the aim to open at least 1 percent of their annual procurement through Citymart. By actively engaging vendors, communities, organizations and experts, Citymart’s innovation network creates an open knowledge resource for sharing across cities around the world, promising efficiencies by learning from the experiences in other cities.

The platform was recent awarded funding from the Knight Foundation, which will help Citymart expand its operations to the U.S. later this year. They plan to partner with four U.S. cities in adopting their problem-based and collaborative online procurement approach.

Watch Citymart founder, Sascha Haselmayer ‘s inspiring talk at on “Open, Agile, and Empathic Cities” on TEDxHamburg.de to learn more about their approach.

-Posted by Maren Maier, Founder of www.creative-states.org

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