How could commissioners make greater use of social media?

How could commissioners make greater use of social media? Chris Sherwood, Co-Founder of Guerilla Policy and Director of Innovation and Development at Scope argues that commissioners should use social media as a way to collaborate with citizens to open up commissioning.

In the previous two blogs I have argued that an open, iterative approach to commissioning where citizens and providers collaborate with commissioners will ultimately lead to better, cheaper services.  In this blog I will consider how social media can be utilised by commissioners to achieve this objective.

Social media is an important tool that commissioners are missing out on. As I’ve suggested previously, social media is a way to engage a wider community of people around a particular issue and allows for the discovery of new ideas and networks of people. Commissioning is a complex, multi-disciplinary process, which involves a range of disciplines including research, analysis and evaluation – all areas where social media could play a helpful role. To adopt social media at scale in the commissioning landscape means that the expected skill set and training offered to commissioners would need to change to include social media as a key part of this.

Social media also offers up the opportunities for professionals to collaborate with each other, which has been pointed out in a comment from Alex Kenmure at Camden Council on an earlier blog post. In developing Guerilla Policy, we have considered its potential as a platform to facilitate collaboration between professionals within a sector as well as between sectors. Commissioners, whose numbers are under pressure, often don’t get the opportunity to collaborate and share ideas with each other or with potential providers. Social media could really help in this regard.

As I’ve argued in the first blog in this series, commissioning is often effectively a ‘closed shop’. I was involved in one recent national commissioning opportunity. The funding stream was a brand new one that targeted troubled families, and the government department launched a consultation exercise with prospective bidders on the proposed programme. The programme also involved close cooperation with local government (as they would be the source of referrals), yet they were not involved in this consultation and instead bidders were asked to contact them as part of the four-week commissioning window. The approach to involvement of these stakeholders was weak and rather late in the day, which meant that the ability to influence of the design of the programme was constrained.

Social media could have added significant value here as a cost-effective platform to facilitate a wider discussion between prospective service users, local authorities and providers. This example also points to a wider challenge that Guerilla Policy seeks to address, which is that too often the people who use and provide services are involved to comment (at best) on an already defined agenda rather than being involved in setting the agenda.

How could social media help? The commissioning cycle could be re-imagined as an iterative rather than linear process. The way we commission involves a number of different skills and disciplines, which a linear process could draw out and utilise. Safeguards could easily be built into the process to protect the interests of taxpayers, providers and service users.

This argument isn’t really about specific social media platforms or technologies but rather is about how to open up commissioning to wider participation of a community of interest for which social media could be a valuable tool.  As a starter for ten the following areas of the commissioning cycle strike me as primed for opening up using social media:

  • Undertaking a population needs assessment – could this be crowdsourced? The needs assessment conducted by the public body could be shared publicly as part of the commissioning process with comments invited from the community on the analysis that has been reached.
  • Developing tendering documentation – could suggestions be generated through a community blog site? Could aspects of the documentation (e.g. the outcomes the service is looking to achieve) be shared publicly with comment invited?
  • Scoring and selection of proposals – whilst this is a sensitive area because of commercial sensitivity, could a closed community (and anonymising of bids) be used to crowd source the scoring of bids?
  • Evaluation and monitoring – could users be invited to blog or upload a film to a YouTube channel documenting their experience and feedback on the service commissioned? Social media can play a role as a research tool, e.g. a hashtag could be set up on Twitter and this could be used as a way to trawl for comments and people to be invited.

Community Budgets, which are being piloted in 16 different areas to support families with complex problems (involving 28 different local authorities) and the recent announcement of whole-place and neighbourhood-level pilots, both offer up opportunities to experiment with social media. These pilots are designed to make better use of resources including local knowledge, community assets and voluntary effort, and afford greater control to local people over services. Making use of social media as part of the commissioning process could offer real benefits to these communities.

Ultimately this comes back to culture. Are we prepared to take risks and try something new? Social media can help to open up commissioning. It means that commissioners could involve a wider community ensuring both greater accountability and buy-in to commission services that deliver better outcomes, potentially for less money. Where and how do you think that social media could be applied in commissioning?  What are the constraints and where are the opportunities? Tell us what you think.


One Comment on “How could commissioners make greater use of social media?”

  1. miiachambers says:

    I really support the thinking in this piece. Very clear reasoning and practical steps too for opening up commissioning to greater citizen and provider participation.

    Maybe one of the basic obstacles (although a small part) could be the term ‘social media’ which is still often understood as something non-work related that we only use in our spare time …maybe use of technology platforms can be termed differently … open platforms perhaps.


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