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26 May 2020

Interview with Johanna Enberg, Innovation Procurement Strategist at the Swedish National Agency for Public Procurement

In its procurement strategy, the Swedish government included as a policy objective 'Public procurement that drives innovation and promotes alternative solutions'. How is the Swedish competence centre for innovation procurement contributing to that?
This goal in the national procurement strategy is guiding us to a very high extent in everything we do. Our support actions are about encouraging contracting organisations to open the way to new solutions and demand innovation. We do this by encouraging to always have a market dialogue with potential suppliers and to use functional requirements in all procurements. Furthermore, we strive to bring innovation procurement to the strategic level in contracting authorities, in order to get them to demand innovative solutions that are not available in the market. We also actively support existing and new buyers' networks, where contracting authorities can join forces about their needs and do a common work to find innovative solutions. Moreover, our focus is on companies and on the fact that they are given the opportunity to develop new products for the public sector.
On two occasions, in 2016 and 2018, we sent out a survey to contracting authorities with questions related to all seven goals in the national procurement strategy. By making these measurements we know that innovation procurement has become used to a somewhat greater extent between these years, but we still have a long way to go.

Amongst the seven policy objectives, one reads 'Public procurement that is environmentally responsible' and 'Public procurement that contributes to a socially sustainable society' Can innovation and sustainability go hand in hand?
Of course. We work a lot on these two objects, as well. We have several government assignments on climate challenges, with a special emphasis on innovation procurement. Innovation procurement must be used to promote the market for low-emission intensive products and services, but also to contribute to creating markets for new innovative solutions.
By looking at our environmental spend analysis, we know that procurement of construction works and infrastructure is an area with very high CO2 emissions, and we have an assignment to promote innovative procurements for buildings that lead to a reduced climate impact. Another government assignment is related to how public procurement can contribute to a circular economy, as well as to the global Sustainable Development Goals. In this area, promotion of innovation and new business models are key.
Concerning social requirements, we have developed a lot of support. In this area, it is rather about encouraging contracting authorities to introduce social criteria, for instance related to offerinng people who are far from the labour market the opportunity for employment or to contribute to increased participation in society for people with disabilities.

What do you think are the main barriers for procurers to start a PCP or PPI when purchasing ICT products or services?
ICT is intertwined in many of the services that the public sector procures and it is largely about the same kind of challenges as in all kinds of innovation procurement, mainly: how to involve decision makers and managing risks.
However, procurement of innovative digital solutions can often be quite complex. We did an evaluation of ten innovation procurement projects last year, which concluded that some of the success factors in ICT innovation procurements are to have access to structures, processes and guidelines - for example, for hardware and information security -, and knowledge on interoperability and interfaces to existing systems. In addition to this, ICT experts need to participate in the procurement and feel ownership.
What is specific concerning ICT is that the pace of development in digital solutions is constantly increasing. This means shorter development times and that the organisation and the working methods constantly have to adapt to new conditions. Something key in this type of procurement is to enter the opportunity for innovation and development in the contract, so that you do not end up with lock-in effects.

How do you support procurers and companies in Sweden?
We have extensive support material on our web about innovation procurement and strategic purchasing, including support for early dialogue and functional requirements. Moreover, we offer learning examples of different innovation procurements.
We do lectures, training sessions, and workshops. This is an important way to not to disseminate information, but also gather information from our target groups through engaging in a dialogue with different stakeholders. In addition to this, we support and co-operate with innovation procurement projects: we offer specific support to contracting authorities by participating in expert groups or reference groups or give advice to the projects. One important way to communicate with our target groups is via social media - like Twitter and LinkedIn -, where we have a specific showcase site on dialogue and innovation.
Finally, we have a Q&A service with a helpdesk where our target groups can contact us by phone orin a chat. Most of the questions and answers are published on our web site in a Q&A portal, where there is a specific heading for innovation and dialogue.

The COVID-19 crisis is showing how important innovation procurement is. What should we learn of this situation?
It is always possible to think in a new way and to allow new solutions. We see many good initiatives in the COVID-19 crisis: liquor factories are manufacturing hand sanitiSers; a company goes from making garbage bags to gowns for healthcare, and 3D printers are used to make face shields for health staff. These examples can be used in a good way for further inspiration for “problem-oriented” needs and functional requirements.
Moreover, we see that people are changing their behaviour, and that give contracting authorities opportunities to procure innovative solutions in the future. I just saw a report from the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions that there has been a rapid increase in the use of digital healthcare services. In this area, there are great opportunities for regions and municipalities to draw lessons from the possibilities to create a digital transformation that is necessary for the climate and in a future increasingly financially strained situation.
Procurement, in general, has a central role in this pandemic, and I think that the way we work during this tragic crisis will have an impact on how we procure in the future. Innovation procurement will play an important part because we have to look beyond what we think is possible to cope with the future.

Cross-border joint procurement is an opportunity European countries should also consider. Do you have any good practices to share in this regard?
When it comes to cross-border activities, we have a good experience of joining forces in the Nordic countries. One example going on right now is a common Nordic market dialogue on the transition towards zero emission logistics. Emissions from goods delivered to the public sector represent a substantial part of the total emissions in the Nordics. Twelve cities across the Nordic countries are involved in this project, and this is the first time Nordic cities come together to find innovative solutions to societal challenges. The goal is to get zero-emission delivery of goods, and get greener and more innovative solutions to procure in the future.

For the Swedish National Agency for Public Procurement, what are the main benefits of being part of the Procure2Innovate Network?
There are so many benefits! First of all, the network of personal contacts in different countries. It makes it so simple to just pick up the phone or write an email, and ask: "how do you do this?" It is so inspiring to see how others are solving specific problems, and to see that we have similar goals, regardless if you are an established or a new competence centre. We want to exchange ideas to drive the development further and give contracting authorities the means and tools to find innovative solutions to tackle societal challenges.

For more information, watch the video presentation of the Swedish competence centre for innovation procurement