Conflicts in public procurement projects can be inevitable, but there are ways to deal with them effectively, writes Neli Garbuzanova, Procurement Manager at NHS Arden & GEM Commissioning Support Unit.
In the thought-provoking lecture “The Dying Art of Disagreement”, the New York Times correspondent Bret Stephens presents the ability to question and disagree as one of the vital ingredients of democratic society. He’s right: differences in opinion and constructive criticism are some of the main drivers of positive change. This can be achieved by understanding the other person’s point of view and challenging your own ideas.
At Arden & GEM Commissioning Support Unit, we have experience of delivering a wide range of complex public procurements on behalf of health and social care organisations. This experience has led us to share the following five tips to enable you to effectively manage conflicts and get the best out of adversarial situations:
1. Deal with issues at every stage
As public procurement projects are usually planned and delivered in stages, disagreement may arise during pre-procurement, procurement, contract award or contract management. Moving to the next stage without addressing an emerging conflict can be detrimental to the overall process and can lead to the need to re-run the procurement. This can result in a lose-lose situation, with increased costs and wasted resources for all parties.
2. Have open and transparent communication
Often public procurement processes end up with just one winning bidder. It is likely that this scenario will generate opposing views around areas such as how the evaluation has been conducted and whether an appropriate and justified mark has been allocated. The best approach in such situations is for both parties to cooperate and resolve the conflict in a timely and speedy manner. For example, during one project I worked on, a bidder identified a contradiction in one of the justifications given for the evaluation score. Working in partnership with my client, we organised a meeting, listened to the concern, admitted an error had occurred and corrected it. In the end, the small omission did not impact on the overall ranking and the robustness of the procurement was protected.
3. Don't hide behind closed doors
This tip applies to both public authorities and potential providers. Being inaccessible and hoping that the problem will go away is not the best tactic for managing conflicts involving public spend, or for building confidence in the procurement processes. UK readers will be aware of the 30 days rule – this is the short time limit for bringing a formal procurement challenge in courts. A passive approach to resolving a disagreement is to wait for the 30 days to pass without making any attempts to address the problem. A proactive approach would be to keep communicating with the aggrieved provider and show genuine desire to explain the reasons for your decision.
4. Courts are not the only answer
Having to rely on litigation to resolve your procurement process conflicts is usually a no-win situation. Both parties stand to lose money, damage their reputations and their relationship. Civil courts are often overloaded and the resulting delays can hurt the delivery of public services. Mediation or conciliation are better alternatives.
5. Build trust into the system
A proactive conflict prevention strategy relies on thinking about the bigger picture and shifting the focus from reactive firefighting to a holistic approach. Building trust in the processes and the system as a whole will prevent conflicts and will give bidders greater confidence. In this respect, the role of the procurement professional is key; to show that he or she is an impartial part of a fair process and acts with the sole objective of serving the public interest. When the next conflict arises, don’t look at it as an insurmountable problem. Embrace the opportunity to put yourself in another party’s shoes and engage in a constructive disagreement.
This is a summary of an article written for Supply Management. To view the full article visit https://www.cips.org/en/supply-management/opinion/2017/october/how-to-resolve-conflicts-in-public-procurement-projects/
To learn more about Arden & GEM’s Procurement Service, please click here.