Wednesday, 2 May 2012

"Events, dear boy, events"

Reputedly, when asked what he most feared, Harold Macmillan replied, "Events, dear boy, events".  

As I watch some of the spectacular public sector funded events I often wonder if  "events, dear boy, events", is uttered by procurement and others, when asked, "what are the key no-go areas for procurement?".  I get the impression that events are an exclusion zone for the profession.  Yet these are big expenditure decisions and have big time, cost, quality and risk implications. They also provide plenty of scope for procurement to demonstrate a meaningful contribution.

The assumption seems to be that events are special and can only be delivered as a 'personal service' through an exemption of the normal procurement rules, but is that really the case? There are alternatives.

Is an event not just another service?  If it is, could a specification not state the delivery of an event on a specified date, the target audience and key messages, with some articulated objectives and the budget, then invite bids from potential providers in the traditional way. Let those in the creative industries explain how they are going to deliver on that remit. Let's not forget the Public Procurement Legislation has long recognised 'aesthetic characteristics' as a legitimate award criterion. I have let contracts for major civic events using that route.  The benefits are a clarity of procurement process, a competitive and open process, and, clarity of costs and deliverables. in parallel it has helped position procurement as a value-adding contributor.

But would it also be possible to run a design contest? That would entail offering a prize (a pot of money), setting out the rules for the contest and inviting competitors. The most artistically creative event could then be chosen. I have run design contests in the past but not for events. I'd be interested to hear from others who have.

There is a problem though when you need a particular artist to deliver, say a concert.  I have yet to find a way round such truly a personal service, but the answer must lie in removing the 'personal' element and letting promoters come forward with the event.  To do that we need to set aside our preference for 'who we'd like to see perform' and move to 'who we want entertained'.

Another issue relates to establishing impact and value for money.  Procurement can help recruit those who do the impact evaluation and assist in defining value. If we link this to my previous blog on the Public Services (Social Value) Act we can then view events through the eyes of  delivering social value.  Considering the Social Return on Investment may be not only be an interesting approach to defining value but also to contract management.  The recent announcement of Coca Cola's decision to measure the SROI of its sponsorship of the Olympics is surely transferable to publicly funded events.

Regardless, events are big expenditure items, high profile and high risk. Primarily though they add public and social value. But they also traditionally place the procuring organisation at the mercy of the market. That doesn't mean they should be no-go areas for procurement, on the contrary, that provides all the more justification for procurement's involvement.

So what other options are available - I'd be interested in your experience and suggestions. 

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