Traditional Procurements or Unsolicited Proposals (USPs)

Typically, the procurement of PPP public works and services project takes place through a traditional process that involve multiple steps (i.e. expressions of interest, requests for qualifications, and requests for proposals) that are designed to be competitive and transparent.  Under normal circumstances this is the preferred and mandated procurement method, but is time consuming.

It is also not uncommon for the public sector to consider potential PPP projects through unsolicited proposals (USPs) that are suggested by the private sector.  These private sector-initiated projects are often innovative in nature and can kickstart the procurement of public works or services that were not previously considered.

Challenges of USP

In many countries USPs are avoided as the can open up the potential for corruption by government procurement officers who by-pass the mandated competitive procurement guidelines.  It also can be seen as an attempt by private sector actors to by-pass orderly procurement pipelines established by public sector institutions.  In the case of meritorious candidate projects, governments will at times consider private sector USPs and then open them up to a competitive and transparent procurement process (e.g. using the “Swiss” method) where the original bidder is given some advantages (i.e. extra project evaluation points or the right to make a final counter offer) during the procurement process in recognition of their original concept.

Many governments are averse to the interruptions that USPs can bring to orderly project procurements which are aligned with national strategic interests and attempts to comply with commitments to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).   In other instances, the public sector might be unable to technically validate the proposed innovation, and could make bad decisions that undermine the concept of Value for Money.

The Paradox of USPs

Paradoxically, government institutions in some countries have realized that there is value in soliciting USPs in a well-ordered manner.  An outstanding example of the solicitation of USPs by the public sector is that of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT)  – in the USA – which has a website dedicated to encouraging unsolicited proposals (see – https://www.penndot.gov/ProjectAndPrograms/p3forpa/Pages/Unsolicited-Proposals.aspx).

However, the PennDOT USP procurement is not a free-for-all process.  PennDOT has set a number of conditions in place to ensure that its procurement team is not overwhelmed by frivolous USPs and distracted from its planned pipeline of PPP projects. USP Guidelines are harmonized with its PPP Act 88 and the PennDOT PPP implementation manual.

Measures that have been set in place to streamline and filter unsolicited proposals include –

  • Accepting USPs only twice a year – July and October of each year
  • Having a private sector partner registration website which requires certain fields of information to be completed before proponents can submit proposals – including prescribed qualifications
  • A list of desirable/acceptable project types (and sectors) that would be considered by PennDOT

This efficient process thus allows the public sector to solicit USP PPP proposals in a systematized manner where ideas can be technically evaluated, yet provides serious and qualified private sector partners with a competitive way to submit innovative ideas.  This structure application process also goes a long way to appease concerns that the general public may have about the corruption of traditional procurements.  By introducing qualification criteria and specific project needs, PennDOT has also introduced measures that strengthen Value for Money concerns about PPPs.

Also, progressive public sector institutions who adopt a PennDOT type approach can also build in other project qualification criteria that lead to environmental considerations, and People First PPPs as proposed by UNECE’s PPP Center of Excellence in Geneva (see – https://www.uneceppp-icoe.org/people-first-ppps/)

This process is a balanced approach to USPs and makes it less paradoxical.

USPs and Healthcare PPP Procurements – A Digital Platform

In the current situation where governments are being overwhelmed by the Corona-19 Pandemic, there are increasing calls for more partnerships between the public and private sectors.  These partnerships, whether philanthropic in nature or more alighted with traditional procurements, could be more effectively initiated if a collaborative structured approach could be initiated that encourages qualified partners to participate competitively through transparent procurements.

A platform similar to the PennDOT platform – initiated at a national level – could overcome the current chaotic and unorganized process and could be a digital platform that truly solicits innovations that the private sector is eager to share with the public sector. This digital platform – whether it is a national or an international platform –  would also ensure that nations and states do not unnecessarily compete for the same resources, and could be a gateway for a sustainable and resilient procurement of healthcare infrastructure, services, pharmaceuticals, and equipment.

A Pragmatic and Practical Approach to USP Healthcare Procurements

Although a digital USP platform might not be possible in the “immediate now,” it offers a pragmatic and practical approach to medium- and long-term strategic healthcare procurements which would be nationally (and even internationally) harmonized during the post-COVID-19 recovery process and serve as an accessible “innovation gateway.”  It would also most certainly offer a swifter way through which meaningful collaborations between the public and private sectors could be initiated.   It is also more likely that systematized USP procurements would result in sustainable and resilient projects which address Value for Money being selected. Additionally, national and international platforms of this nature would strengthen global efforts of all healthcare partners if the current pandemic was followed by another in the future.  Harmonized digital platforms would most certainly allow healthcare providers to identify acceptable USPs that could identify mitigations more efficiently.

Pre-Requisites for the Adoptions of a Digital USP Procurement Platform

I believe that a public sector solicited USP approach for Healthcare PPP project procurements (following the PennDOT model) would be possible if the following pre-requisites are included –

  • A streamlined and harmonized approach (that avoids unnecessary bureaucracy) that sets clear procurement objects and needs (deliverables) agreed to by all government stakeholders at all levels
  • A user-friendly digital platform that allows new private sector partners (new stakeholders) competitive access to a procurement mechanism that allows them to introduce innovative ideas and solutions for desperately needed healthcare works, services and supplies
  • The establishment of a pool of qualified partners who can implement actions that have significant impacts (inclusive of international contractors who might be better positioned than local contractors)
  • An approach that that sets achievable pre-requisites that address Value for Money and People First PPP

Conclusion

We are running out of time and need to evade processes that hinder delivery of sustainable and resilient PPPs, whether they be traditionally procured or procured through USPs.

WAPPP; the ISRC; and PPPHealth4All are collaborating to leverage the skills of the global community of PPP practitioners to seek solutions for the COVID-19 pandemic.  If you want to be a collaborator, please reach out to me.

Additional Reading

For additional reading see – proactive-strategic-healthcare-ppps-corona-virus-epoch-david-baxter

Resources for USPs Implementation Guidance

World Bank USP Guidance (Volume One) – https://ppp.worldbank.org/public-private-partnership/sites/ppp.worldbank.org/files/documents/UnsolicitedProposals_Volume1_MainFindings_WEB%20%281%29.pdf

World Bank USP Guidance (Volume Two) – https://ppp.worldbank.org/public-private-partnership/sites/ppp.worldbank.org/files/documents/UnsolicitedProposals_Volume2_Guidelines_WEB%20%281%29.pdf

World Bank USP Guidance (Volume Three) – https://ppp.worldbank.org/public-private-partnership/sites/ppp.worldbank.org/files/documents/UnsolicitedProposals_Volume3_Review_WEB%20%281%29.pdf

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