Broader outcomes has lost its way

By Caroline Boot, Owner, Clever Buying and NZ Procurement and Probity Services.
You may be asking; what happened to the “Broad” in Broader Outcomes? Is Progressive Procurement disappearing down a rabbit hole?

Wind back the clock to 2019, when the new shiny Procurement Creed was ‘Broader Outcomes’.

“What a brilliant initiative,” we all said. “Not only will taxpayer money be used to deliver optimal technical solutions for the best price, but we’ll also use those taxpayer funds invested in projects, to leverage social, economic, environmental and cultural benefits for all New Zealanders.”

What would that look like, we wondered. For little or no extra investment, we’d get a whole raft of additional benefits to our communities. We’d extend opportunities for publicly-funded projects to  those who had traditionally did not have access. Like SME businesses, start-ups, not-for-profits, community groups, Maori and Pasifika businesses – there would be focus on employment of vulnerable people, such as the disabled, long-term unemployed, new immigrants, unqualified school-leavers and more.

Community engagement and involvement in publicly funded projects would be encouraged and rewarded.

We’d embrace inclusive diversity, including women-owned businesses, ethnic, religious, LGBGT-marginalised individuals and businesses who would all have realistic chances to win public business.

In the environmental context the aspiration was also widely embraced. We actively sought long-term ‘sustainability’ in every conceivable context. We’d reward waste reduction, recycling and upcycling initiatives, community education and involvement in environmental initiatives, improving efficiencies in manufacturing, enhancing water quality, clever re-purposing of waste plastics and more.

What happened?

Fast forward to 2023, and it seems that Broader Outcomes has got slimmer. Although this aspect is now included in many, if not most procurement decisions by government organisations, the focus now appears tight and often restrictive.

A recent survey of 100 of those engaged in procurement for either agencies or suppliers, revealed that the majority of respondents in both those camps considered that too much emphasis is currently being placed on progressive procurement/Broader Outcomes. That’s a surprising result, given the relatively short period of time that these requirements have been introduced into government procurements.

“Broader Outcomes has become a competitive, tick-box exercise” said one very experienced government procurement professional. “It’s lost its way from the broad and inclusive, inspiring vision that was originally intended.”

So we dug a bit deeper, to see what might be driving these opinions.

A review of tenders listed on GETS in the past six months shows that questions and evaluation criteria within Broader Outcomes is now predominantly focused on two areas: Providing employment and/or work opportunities for Maori individuals and businesses; and reduction of C02 emissions

While few would dispute that these aspects are important, the speed and extent that all those other worthy aims appear to have dropped under the radar is bewildering.

Feedback from some other minority groups and individuals who were originally targeted for support through Broader Outcomes, shows growing unease that the magnificent intentions of progressive procurement have not been delivered for them. It’s still a struggle, some say – perhaps even more than before.

What’s more, a growing number of suppliers and government agencies are starting to ask tough questions. Is supplier capability, smart methodologies and long-term value, no longer important in procurement decisions? Have those critical success factors for value for money been ditched in the quest for Broader Outcomes and supplier diversity?

“We’re being required to ditch capable, proven and experienced suppliers who have delivered our contracts well for many years, in favor of ‘diverse’, but inexperienced newbies,” reported one contract manager.

“Inevitably, this has led to huge additional workloads to attempt to bring them up to speed – and often that has failed, resulting in a waste of money that nobody wants to publicise.”

There’s no doubt that the intentions of Progressive Procurement and Broader Outcomes are had good intentions, and providing opportunities for suppliers of all shapes, colours and sizes to undertake government contracts is important – but it needs to be carefully calibrated so that best value is achieved for our hard-earned taxpayer dollars.

The need for smart procurement and efficient delivery, in our recovering economy, has never been greater. Let’s keep our focus on balanced and sensible procurement practice.