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Commissioning Series: #4 Practice Makes Perfect?

I have worked with (and am good friends with) many commissioners. As an ex-commissioner and having worked on the other side as a provider, we see big variances in commissioning styles, as I have outlined in previous blogs in this series. One of the common themes that I discuss with friends and ex-colleagues in this area (because I am sad enough to talk to friends about this stuff outside of work!!) is that it isn’t something that they do regularly enough to practice and the turnover of colleagues involved in the process is often high. Combined, this reduces the in-house learning that occurs during each procurement.

The learning curve over the past few years, since the move to Local Authority has been steep and colleagues are reporting that commissioning is improving as everyone in public health gets used to the process. How then, do we ensure that we are benefitting from the experiences of all of the members of the procurement process? It is perfectly possible that no-one involved will leave before the 3/5/7/10 years that the contract being procured is completed. However, it is prudent to prepare for this process.

A stack of paper with 'The Play Book' written on the front
Hoping for the best, prepared for the worst and unsurprised by anything in between (Maya Angelou)

We hope that people stay in the team to develop and hone their skills so that the procurement process is exponentially improving over time. However, people’s situations change and Local Authority cuts have been deep, particularly since the removal of the public health ringfence. The most effective system of ensuring that key learning is not lost that I have encountered is from a colleague who kept a running diary – which I am calling a ‘playbook’ – throughout the procurement process they ran.

They said it was to remind them of all the issues they faced and the nuances that caused them problems because they knew they wouldn’t remember these in 3-5 years when they re-ran the tender again. This is a super-smart idea because it is so easy to forget and this isn’t something that most commissioners get loads of practice doing, or even if they do, the subject matter is so varied that the nuance for each areas can get lost or meld into one.

In the end this colleague left the organisation, but the playbook they handed over served as a fantastic guide to the next commissioner in that role. In addition, she took the playbook with her to remind her in her next role what she had one previously. This was/is a goldmine of perpetual learning and improvement as she continues to update the playbook.


In my previous blog Clarification Questions and Request for Information I talked about learning from others. This one is simply about writing down what you are learning for yourself and your current organisation. There are parties that don’t benefit from you noting down the nuance that gradually improves your tendering skills, particularly you as a commissioner. Think about the impressed faces of the interview panel when you take out your playbook during your interview. It shows you are diligent, organised and keen to improve. Oh, it also means better services end up in the hands of the public too!