Sunday, 9 December 2012

Procurement literacy

New research has highlighted that "Doctors' orders are 'too complicated for most patients'". Some of those in need just can't read or understand what they must do. Excuse the pun, but this is a very 'unhealthy' situation. Who's fault is that? Does it matter?

You could put this down to falling education standards or doctors having insufficient time to spend with patients. It's easy to say it's 'their fault'.

The art of conversation is significantly different from giving instructions. When I go into a doctor's surgery, the introductory conversation is about creating a rapport, helping me feel relaxed enough to share what the doctor really needs to hear from me. Before I leave the surgery I have to convey sufficient information of the symptoms for the doctor to have made the correct diagnosis or assessement. Only then can the doctor provide me with instructions (orders) as to the next steps in making progress - particularly what I have to do to improve.

If the doctor doesn't create the right rapport there's a significant risk that I will not convey all the relevant information; perhaps because I feel intimidated, embarrassed or too deferential. In that situation I would suggest the doctor is at fault in not creating the rapport. However, when I feel comfortable discussing my problem with the doctor but fail to convey all the relevant symptoms, then some of the blame must lie with me. If at the end of the consultation the instructions given to me are too complicated and I cannot understand what I have to do, then the fault surely must be with the doctor. The responsibility has to be with the person who wishes to convey information to communicate in a way which the intended recipient understands. It is the communicator who needs to test for understanding, and if necessary, reshape until such times that it is clear that the instructions are understood. If the doctor doesn't do this there is a loss of patient confidence - what's more, both are losers.

Has this anything whatsoever to do with procurement?  Yes, I think so.

I don't know how many times I have been approached by those on the receiving end of PQQs and RFPs, sharing their tales of woe. Sometimes they don't understand the questions, sometimes they don't understand the specification and sometimes they do not understand the instructions - procurement literacy may not have been high or perhaps just bad procurement communication. My biggest concern, though, is that they do not actually understand the evaluation approach used or why they have been unsuccessful. When the market do not understand the decision or how it was arrived at they tend to 'fill in the gaps' - corruption, favouritism, buyer incompetence, etc.. become the underlying justification for not being successful. On many occasions the potential supplier just gives up in frustration - that means one less potential player in the market for the buyer. We could, of course, blame the recipient of the information, but does that logic stack up and who loses? One thing remains - a lack of trust and confidence in the mind of the bidder, who perhaps could have exceeded the buyers future expectations. Both are losers. Isn't procurement about getting the best deal?

Going back to the research on health literacy - is it now time we had some research on procurement literacy and the effectiveness of procurement communications? If we had, perhaps we could all be winners.

To misquote Professor Gill Rowlands, the report's author:
"This is a preventable problem, which puts increasing pressure on an already [strained economy]. Our priority now is to look at addressing the challenges uncovered in the research and to develop solutions to ensure [procurement] information is more easily understood."

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