Commissioning is dead.

The idea, first seriously introduced in the UK around 2010, has been associated with the ‘purchaser/provider split’, competitive tendering, and outsourcing.

The integrated care white paper removes the NHS reforms which were most symbolic of this, so it’s time to acknowledge that the long-heralded event has come. It is a dead parrot.

But the idea that it’s the job of government to:

  • spend money…
  • for services…
  • to meet needs…


This puts the ‘commissioner’ and their budget at the centre of the universe. It assumes the solution is to provide services. And it focuses on needs, deficits, problems.

We need to replace it with

  • experimenting and learning…
  • how to influence complex systems…
  • to achieve better outcomes for citizens and communities.

It’s the difference between contracting for a street cleansing service, and trying to work out how to achieve clean streets.

That’s what, since at least 2010, we’ve been helping people to grapple with, and it’s the mission of The Public Service Transformation Academy

Commissioning is dead, long live commissioning!

Well, what else can we call it? The work is still needed.

The video of my recent presentation is here:

#commissioning #procurement #integratedcare #publicservices

My piece ‘commissioning is an approach to transformation’ sets out our concept of transformation:

It also acknowledges that the brilliant ‘clean streets’ example comes from Dr Carolyn Wilkins OBE.

And that effective, strategic procurement – the quality of thinking, of contracting, contract management, marketing shaping and market engagement needed to buy the street cleansing services that are needed as part of that – is still important and valuable.

The core approach that characterises the sort of commissioning that I believe now needs to be seen as just part of a much bigger picture has most recently been used by The King’s Fund, the identify needs/specify requirements/purchase/contract manage/learn cycle which was introduced in the World Class Commissioning programme in 2010 (predating the Lansley reforms).

And the model of thinking about the real outcomes that people get in their own lives, and the way commissioners can play a humble role in the complex system that creates those results, was also being talked about by Richard Selwyn at exactly the same period.

Of course, all these ideas have a much longer heritage, and are still being explored deeply, and not just in the UK. For thinking about commissioning’s long history and the significant contribution it still has to make, I recommend the work of Professor Gary Sturgess in Australia, where the word still has enormous value, perhaps because it was never simplified and standardised in the way it was in the UK.