Commissioning Academy launched – a bit fluffy or transformative initiative?

Last week saw some major UK public sector announcements with a procurement angle. We had the Treasury’s Infrastructure Procurement routemap report which I’m ploughing through, and will come back to shortly, and the public launch by the Cabinet Office of the Commissioning Academy.

It’s quite a while since this idea was first promoted, but its clear that the development work has involved some fairly extensive piloting involving central and local government, health and other public bodies. The Academy is virtual – so there is no physical “university” or even training centre at the heart of it. It’s also not clear if external providers have been involved and to what extent, but it is being done on a cohort basis with much of the learning is through members of each cohort educating each other. The Cabinet Office expects 8 cohorts to participate in 2013 – each with around 25 people, of SCS1 / Grade 6 level (central Government) or equivalent in other sectors.

The Academy will bring commissioners from different parts of the public sector together to learn from the example of the most successful commissioning organisations. It will develop a cadre of professionals who are progressive in their outlook on how the public sector uses the resources available”.

I rather like the sound of that, although I would have expected to see some codification of the more technical aspects of “Commissioning” as well as the “learning from each other’s experience” type of education – both have their place. The programme consists of 8 development days, spread  over 6 months, including site visits to commissioning sites and discussions with other commissioners. “It is not a training course on technical processes” – that does introduce a bit of a worry about whether there is any solid basis here, or tangible capture of best practice through more permanent means than just nice visits and a bit of a chat...

The scope is very broad though -

“The Commissioning Academy programme uses practical, peer-led learning, covering key commissioning issues, such as:

  • outcome-based commissioning
  • whole-systems thinking, bringing all facets of public services together to tackle issues
  • working with the voluntary and community sector
  • behavioural insights
  • market engagement and development
  • alternative funding models, such as social impact bonds
  • joint commissioning across organisational boundaries
  • new models of delivery - such as mutual and joint venture companies”

Shall we re-visit the whole argument about whether commissioning is the same as procurement or one is a subset of the other? Perhaps not today. But I’m surprised there isn’t a little more “hard” procurement stuff in the content as published – an understanding of what is and isn’t possible under EU procurement regulations would for example seem to be key for commissioners. But the lack of that fits with the lack of technical content as advertised.

So will this make a difference? Well, of course it is scratching the surface of the issue, given the thousands and thousands of people involved with commissioning – a couple of hundred  going through this process isn’t going to change tigns overnight. And the lack of real analytical rigour may be an issue (although we can’t tell whether there is more to this than the “group discussion”) ..  Let’s conclude that it is a worthwhile initiative, but the jury is still very much out on whether it will make much difference.

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First Voice

  1. Dave Orr:

    Oh No! Two management newspeak words that are currently fashionable: “Academy” and “Commissioning”.

    Sounds better then “School for Outsourcing” doesn’t it?

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