icm2re logo. icm2:re (I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything) is an 

ongoing web column edited and published by Brunella Longo

This column deals with some aspects of change management processes experienced almost in any industry impacted by the digital revolution: how to select, create, gather, manage, interpret, share data and information either because of internal and usually incremental scope - such learning, educational and re-engineering processes - or because of external forces, like mergers and acquisitions, restructuring goals, new regulations or disruptive technologies.

The title - I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything - is a tribute to authors and scientists from different disciplinary fields that have illuminated my understanding of intentional change and decision making processes during the last thirty years, explaining how we think - or how we think about the way we think. The logo is a bit of a divertissement, from the latin divertere that means turn in separate ways.

Chronological Index | Subject Index

Transparency is the new privacy. Part 1: Trust

Public procurement, policies and information security

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2015). Transparency is the new privacy. About public procurement, policies and information security. Part 1: Trust. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Print)], 4.6 (June).

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2015). Transparency is the new privacy. About public procurement, policies and information security. Part 1: Trust. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Online)], 4.6 (June).
Full-text accessible at http://www.brunellalongo.co.uk/

Monsignore, Your Lordship has sent to me saying I am to begin painting and to have no fear. My answer is that a man paints with his brains and not with his hands, and if cannot have his brains clear he will come to grief. Therefore I shall be able to do nothing well until justice has been done me. The ratification of the last contract is not forthcoming, and under the terms of the other, which was drawn up in Clement’s presence, I am daily pilloried as though I had crucified the Christ.
(Michelangelo Buonarroti, from one of his Letters to the Cardinals - October 1542. In Michelangelo: a record of his life as told in his own letters and papers. Translated and edited by Robert W Carden. Constable & Company, 1913).

London July 24th 2015 - Like many other micro and small businesses that operate in high tech and very volatile markets, I am wondering wether the new government has any credible chance to bring about a real change in public procurement processes, following many announcements, conferences, open calls and pledges to support the interests and the growth of small businesses in the digital industries and the overwhelming expectations the coalition government generated for investments in social enterprises, big society and open data projects.

Of course, one cannot expect this to be the fastest way to get assignments, especially if you are at your first digital start-up. But it is a quite sensible way to bounce back and give your working life a modest boost if you are 52-year-old, if your human rights have been ridiculed, if you cannot pay high lawyers’ fees to get your case for compensation even heard in a court of law and if your reputation has become a matter of international bets and laughs among various professional families following a libellous – but real – personal bankruptcy that saved the face (but not the seat in Parliament) of the former Business Secretary of the Government of the Country in which you have applied for citizenship. If you think I am self-deprecating myself, please read again. I am a true, real econ-human being.

In this and in the following article I will give an account on how I came to the conclusion that on the two very important themes of trust and accountability, that are extremely relevant for change management, there is an urgent need to increase the transparency of public processes and to fill a policy gap that leads straight to inequalities, discrimination, abuse of power and waste of resources, causing more miscarriages of justice and pillories than unicorns, social rampage more than social enterprises, mental health issues more than spread of knowledge and education.

I decided to anonymise or semi-anonymise some of the references to the people I will talk about because they would be able to exploit and re-frame my stories for their own communications in a cynical and repeatedly abusive conduct.

First, the trust argument.

I turned to various online sources and web platforms for public procurement. I registered with mainstream institutions in the UK and in Europe to receive notifications of tenders and contracts.

The education opportunity or... a warning about the mock procurement exercises

One of the first opportunities I came across was what you learn to consider the typical “too good to be true” as soon as you familiarise with a certain environment.

It showed up with a major organisation, let’s name it just TM, the core business of which is in the construction and transports sectors. And it echoed an exchange of correspondence I have had with their Chairman in 2013. At the time in which I had talked with TM Chairman in 2013 I was still bankrupt, not allowed to be self employed and therefore forced to apply for jobs such as receptionist at leading barristers chambers, “Strategic External Resource” for the Fire Brigade or communication and IT officer (a scapegoat profile) at the UK Border Agency. All fun for job seekers advisers. that we all pretend to be true for the sake of the advertising market and the welfare system.

My proposal to the Chairman of TM was for the shaping and setting up of a sort of “Learning Chief Advisor” role, somebody who could address the lack of policies and actions on vocational training he himself had mentioned as a major issue for infrastructural projects during a public lecture few weeks earlier.

One year later the issue is now mainstream in the political agenda, linking vocational training, immigration policies and unemployment: I was sure, and I am still sure, that it was a very good proposal, shaking some assumptions on what is the best profile for government and corporate advisors. But very predictably, TM Chairman declined it because he had no budget and no stakeholders demand for such a role.

The TM’s invitation to tender publicised in June – July 2014 was for quality assurance of training provision within the scope of a controlled programme (let’s call it simply programme), focussing in particular on health and safety issues, whereas contents and trainers would be provided by a special educational agency (agency).

The ITT requirement was quite vague in many respects when not totally obscure so that I decided to send in some questions that are listed below together with the answers I received straightaway:

  1. Q: In order to roughly produce an economic proposal, would it be possible for the buyer to indicate how many days or hours the approximately "minimum 7 sessions" consist of (with regard to the sessions the contractor is supposed to attend, study, observe according to the requirement document)?
    A: the approximately "minimum 7 sessions" consist of 7 sessions of 1 hour (my comment: that meant the whole contract would be for a job quantified in only 7 hours, a simply ridiculous goal to be advertised through a dozens of documents and presented as a public procurement opportunity via government websites like Contracts finder).
  2. Q: Can you please indicate how many people (stakeholders) you expect the contractor to survey / interview for this project?
    A: Number of stakehoders/people we expect the contractor to survey/interview is at least 5.
  3. Q: Would the contractor be able to speak openly and frankly with the agency personnel, with the teachers or trainers assigned to the programme and their managers in respect of methodological and technical decisions (for instance, investigating the reasons why they have chosen a particular language, format, or instructional device) following the covert training attendance and/or other external observations?
    A: The contractor will be able to speak openly and frankly with the agency personnel and the programme teachers, trainers, managers etc in order to fulfill the services required (comment: that sounds to me as a “no, we do not need any trouble here”).
  4. Q Would the contractor be able to speak openly and frankly with the agency and the programme participants in order to gather some prima facie data about customer satisfaction and quality of their experiences?
    A: The contractor will be able to speak openly and frankly with trainees, in order to fulfill the services required (comment: the contractor was therefore not expected to interact with end users of training provision without TM or the agency control).
  5. Q: Can the buyer specify in respect of what accepted industrial standard in the field of adults education and continuous professional development or in the construction sector, the "mock inspections" are considered an acceptable methodological approach to ascertain adherence of education and training provisions to quality assurance criteria?
A: "Mock Inspections" are an accepted industry standard to ascertain adherence of education and training provisions to quality assurance criteria. (comment: this is a British myth, see my notes below).
  6. Q Can the buyer confirm there is no defined quality assurance in place within the programme at the moment?
    A: the agency have their own internal process. This is to implement quality assurance for and on behalf of TM, the client (comment: that meant TM considered themselves as the major owner of the programme and therefore they wanted to agree what they want with “their” agency maximising the agency involvement and the best value for money solution).
  7. Q Would it be possible for the buyer to provide the contractor with documents, access to archival materials and / or meetings with key people working for either the agency or at TM in order to understand what the internal know-how or mock inspection traditions consists of in respect of assurance of training programmes?
    A: Access to archival materials, documents and / or meetings with key people in the agency and / or at TM in order to understand what is required etc will be granted as part of the setting up process.
  8. Q: It is understood by the format given to respond to the ITT that TM “wishes to engage contractors of all sizes, regardless of type and ownership and strives to meet the highest standards". Therefore some questions in the tendering form, namely B002 and B003 and sections G I an J, seem to be asked either by mistake or because the buyer has prepared this ITT using generic contractual templates that do not apply in the circumstance of this programme nor are compatible with the involvement of the agency.
    A: TM do wish to engage contractors of all sizes, regardless of type and ownership and it is because we strive to meet the highest standards, that these questions are applicable [emphasis is mine]. Companies need to be financially sound and have the capacity to fulfil the requirements asked of them, in line with the standards that TM has set for itself. These questions allow us to assess these qualities. Regardless of the size of the company TM expect the company it contracts with to have considered quality, environmental impact and equality and be able to show some evidence of this either with a policy or a statement.

So all in all I abandoned this conversation, very frustrated.

Education and training activities can be obviously audited under a compliance perspective and with the scope of purely verifying the alignment of contents and methods taught to health and safety standards and legislation and this is absolutely fine. It is the normal way in which people approaches governance and regulations. In this respect, TM’s programme may really need just mock inspections once in a while.

But adults education and training are activities in which supervision, monitoring and control of quality are based on consensus about methodologies and measurements of learning outcomes, achievements, experiences and reactions. For that, assurance criteria and critical success factors must be always defined including an element of trust that the same idea of mock inspections precludes or undermines.

If you search large repositories of literature and standards about education, training and talent development (for instance those connected to the american ERIC and ASTD or the european ETDF) you do not find a single occurrence for the expression "mock inspections". Nor the subject is considered at all in any discourse or policy or strategy for lifelong learning. Mock inspections are pretty much a very British thing like the “mass observation” projects, the panopticons, Morris dances or Ken Loach’s films. Are we really sure that is what we need to train or re-train people these days up to the best standards?

So all in all, if TM wanted to give me a friendly warning about british habits and defects in public procurement, the message was received very clearly and with thanks.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that we could have developed a more trustful, creative and useful relationship with just a telephone call.

Is faking a public procurement exercise for a contract covering 7 hours of mock inspections within a vocational programme the best way to act in a socially responsible way? Will TM and myself ever trust each other again? Is TM aware they may have a problem while using open data and shared data for procurement exercises in such a poor considerate way?

In the next article I will talk about other examples of procurement exercises, when not gambles, that whilst you are enjoying a laugh and a cool atmosphere with your team are likely to erode trust in your supply chain and to expose your unknown unknowns to cybercriminals, leaving unfair and corrupt behaviours unaccountable.