Research

Posted 14 January, 2020 by Helen Kilbey

Successful tool re-use in open contracting

In 2019 we conducted research into tool re-use in open contracting. Specifically: what conditions increase the likelihood of success for an organisation looking to re-use an existing open contracting tool (i.e. an open source tool that can be used to publish, analyse, visualise, and work with government procurement data)? 

The research was carried out in partnership with the Open Contracting Partnership and the World Bank Procurement Global team. Our findings, as well as guidelines for tool re-users and tool developers based on these findings, can be downloaded below. 

  • Tool re-use in open contracting: A Primer. For organisations interested in re-using an open contracting tool. Based on our research, it includes an introduction to some available tools, a step-by-step guide to help an organisation formalise exactly what they need, and a detailed look at how to evaluate whether a tool is the right fit and whether the right conditions are in place for successful re-use of that tool.

  • Evaluation Matrix. A downloadable matrix designed to accompany the evaluation framework introduced in the primer.

*****

This past year at The Engine Room, we’ve talked a lot about tool re-use–the repurposing of existing technologies in new and different contexts. 

Re-using an existing tool instead of building a new tool from scratch can come with a host of benefits. Re-use can save an organisation time and resources and offer access to a community of developers, support providers and other tool re-users. Repurposing tools can also contribute to resource conservation in civic tech more generally. 

In practice, however, these benefits are generally under-realised. In 2019 we’ve been looking more closely at why. What conditions enable successful re-use of open source tools in a new context, and what causes re-use attempts to be unsuccessful? What are the challenges encountered and how can they be surmounted? 

Research findings 

One of our research projects, carried out in partnership with the Open Contracting Partnership (OCP) and the World Bank, has focused specifically on tool re-use within open contracting–that is, tools created to publish, analyse, visualise, and work with government procurement data. (A second, separate research project looking at tool re-use by non-profit organisations in the UK published findings at the end of last year.)  

In our research, certain factors came up as significant contributors to success. Many of these factors were related to support, learning and funding, including:

  • In-person support from the tool author or a support provider with in-depth knowledge of the tool
  • Clear and thorough tool documentation
  • Spaces and events where knowledge could be shared with others in the field
  • Trainings and learning resources
  • Adequate financing  

Other findings were more closely related to open contracting tools themselves: 

  • Tool re-users we interviewed generally expressed a preference for smaller, more modular tools that could be extended or used together, rather than complex platforms. 
  • The barrier to entry for many tools was felt to be too high for many of the intended users of these tools, and interviewees noted a need for more web-based tools.  

The full list of research findings can be downloaded here.

Based on these findings and previous research into tool selection, we have created two sets of guidelines:  

  1. A primer for organisations interested in re-using open contracting tools
  2. A set of guidelines for tool authors and support providers

As the field of open contracting continues to grow and tools continue to be developed, organisations re-using tools are a critical part of the open contracting ecosystem. We hope that these guidelines extend an invitation to new tool re-users, while also providing insights for existing practitioners.  

We’re also always open to hearing your feedback! If you have thoughts you’d like to share, please send them to hello@theengineroom.org

Related articles