When a municipal administration, university or government entity conducts business, it is legally obligated to select the supplier of the desired product or service in a competitive, cost-effective and transparent manner [GWB]. In this, a legal process needs to be followed, which is referred to as public procurement. In this, the procuring entities’ needs are clearly articulated, criteria developed, and bids solicited and evaluated to decide on the best option [UBA, 2020].
The primary reason why the public should take interest in this process is its economic significance: According to the German Ministry of Environment, the annual public procurement volume in Germany alone totals 500 billion € [BMUV], which represents about 14% of the German GDP [Statista, 2022]. Globally, this number increases to 11 trillion and 12% of the GDP, respectively [Bosio & Djankov, 2020]. The concept of environmentally friendly or Green Public Procurement (GPP), acknowledges and uses this large-scale purchasing power strategically to promote ecological innovation and reduce pollution. In recent years, GPP, while a voluntary instrument, has evolved to play a key role in European and international efforts for more sustainability, even being included in the Sustainable Development Goals as target 12.7 [EC, 2012] [UNEP]. Among other things, GPP procurement approaches use the eligibility criteria (requiring e.g. that a certified environmental management system is in place) or the technical specifications part of procurement (e.g. mandating the product be produced with sustainable materials) to ensure that the public’s money does not flow towards practices that have a negative environmental impact. Public procurement can also be used actively to promote sustainable innovation. Research [Krieger & Zipperer, 2021] shows that winning green awards increases a small or medium-sized firm’s (less than 250 employees) probability of being a driver of environmentally friendly innovation by 26%. Despite these facts, GPP is not widespread in procurement processes. Perceptions of high cost, anticompetitiveness, and inadequate institutional structures make GPP the exception, not the norm [Chiappinelli & Zipperer, 2017].
In thinking about our project and trying to reach out to procurers, we noticed how little public involvement there was in procurement processes. While there were some initiatives relating to public monitoring [Citizens & Markets], we could identify only one case in Finland in which the public acted in a consultative function [Torvinen & Ulkuniemi, 2015]. We were struck particularly by the discrepancy between the public’s interest in sustainability and public policy: while 65% of German citizens believed that environmental protection was “very important” [UBA, 2022], only 2,4% of goods were procured in a green fashion [Chiappinelli & Zipperer, 2017]. Building on the theoretical framework of Public-Private-People-Partnerships (4P) [Ng, Wong & Wong, 2013], we too wish to involve the public in a consultative function in the procurement process, an idea we refer to as Participatory Public Procurement (Be a PartPP). While few pilot projects have been made, participation in public procurement reflects the public’s right to know and can minimize risks in the procurement process [Huang & Li, 2020].
Specifically, we wish to change how public authorities purchase goods, services and works and to this end propose a joint virtual-physical consultative community-based participatory procurement model. By reaching out to procurers and working with them to open discussion on procurement decisions to citizens, both on- and offline, our goal is to increase the public’s say in procurement – allowing citizens to input local priorities into the procurement process – and increase transparency and institutional trust by improved communication. Ideally, procurers inform about institutional restrictions and the public’s priorities are reflected in the criteria for procurement—e.g. ecological certification or regional sourcing, when appropriate. In this way, we hope to use Be a PartPP to transform the public procurement process for the benefit of both procurers and the general public.