HOW TO… Successfully Procure Social Services


Author: Margaret Gilbert

How well do buyers procure social services? Do you treat the same as procurement overall? It is sad that buyers procure social services without much understanding of the social services area i.e. the reality of running programmes for the disadvantaged.

In the situation the buyer thinks ‘contract’ where the social services provider thinks ‘at risk’ groups. There is a lack of understanding of the social services provider world – the managing of people in distress.

Buyers are inclined to:

  1. Pay for set number of hours – even if behaviour change will take longer.
  2. States payment structure and won’t negotiate.
  3. Lack of discussion/understanding.

This leads to:

  1. Lack of programmes that works better than programme based on set hours.
  2. Procurement to set pricing rather than programme that would work better.
  3. Lack of discussion which does not help understanding.

Another side issue is Intellectual Property with the expectation that the IP belongs to the buyer.

The other side social services providers:

It has to be said that social service providers have the technical skills but are not so good on the commercial front. They are very much ‘heart orientated’ rather than ‘head orientated’.

Recent change to how government agencies contract with social service providers has shown a sharp learning curve – too sharp? And shows a need for better education.

A new way is needed so that acknowledgement is given that social services contracts takes into account the variances of social service providers programmes. In addition to respect the expertise and allow for a better pricing model. Better programmes can result. Social service providers IP should be acknowledged. This is only fair.

Buyer expectations

Buyers – especially government agencies – look to spending of public monies so hence the pressure around pricing. This is understandable but… this has to be considered further.

What if – allow for programmes to provide social services that will reduce/eliminate the problem so that savings can be made elsewhere in government programmes as there will not be needed. A win I would have thought.

Social service providers have the expertise but are expected to run and maintain programmes but also have to be in continuous fundraising mode. This leads to stress.

How about… 

If the social services providers are provided realistic funding so that the twin issues of running programmes and fundraising was not the issue it is.

If buyers had better understanding of the social services provider world so treated differently than procurement for goods or services.

Buyers of course have to undertake procurement following the ‘rules’. There is a case to be made however for a different way and to acknowledge the format for social service  providers should focus on the best outcomes. In this situation buyers should be more inclusive and to listen to social service providers.

Often the contract is awarded on price (which is based on their stated price) and sometimes without discussion, negotiation or contract input. Why is this the case?

It would seem to me that a better way is needed and that social services cannot be treated the same as for the procurement of pens, IT etc. There is a flow on effect to people’s lives and a chance to improve their lot.

We have to have an open mind and to treat specific procurement differently. We should remember that ‘one size does not fit all’.

Do not get me wrong, social service providers have to be compliant of course. This is a given.

Next step – buyers have to gain a better understanding. In this way all can win – buyer, supplier and the public in need of social programmes.





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