I have just read an interesting piece of research that sheds different light on public procurement decision-making processes. That short, accessible and interesting piece, [M Crowder, "Public procurement: the role of cognitive heuristics" (2015) 35(2) Public Money & Management 127-34] explores the cognitive heuristics of public procurement processes. As the abstract makes clear
Public procurement processes have been extensively studied, but
previous research has not sought to explain public procurement in terms
of cognitive heuristics. This paper examines the award of a large public
sector contract and outlines how the decisions were made. Heuristics
were used throughout the process. Three heuristics—EBA [elimination by aspects], conjunctive, and
WADD [weighted additive]—were used in combination to reduce the number of bidders for the
contract from a somewhat unmanageable 63 down to four. This paper allows
the underlying stages to be viewed from this perspective and therefore
it explores procurement in a way that sheds new light on the processes
The paper is easy to follow if one has some experience in public procurement evaluation or, absent that, some knowledge of the rules on exclusion, qualitative selection and short-listing of tenderers [for a summary of the rules under the new Directive 2014/24, see A Sanchez Graells, “Exclusion, Qualitative Selection and Short-listing”, in F Lichère, R Caranta & S Treumer (eds), Modernising Public Procurement. The New Directive, vol. 6 European Procurement Law Series (Copenhagen, DJØF, 2014) 97-129]. As the conclusions stress, the paper shows
that procurement decisions can be explained in terms of cognitive
heuristics. The EBA heuristic makes a decision on the basis of a single
aspect; the conjunctive heuristic makes a decision on the basis that a
number of requirements are all met; and the WADD heuristic makes a
decision by weighing up various factors and offsetting the good against
the bad. This was reflected in the procurement under study, where the
number of bidders under consideration was reduced in precisely this way.
The paper offers a good perspective to complement our understanding of procurement decision-making and provokes some thoughts on how to better regulate these processes in order to avoid weaknesses derived from cognitive biases.
This is an area that promises to open roads towards interdisciplinary efforts to incorporate the insights of psychology and other sciences into legal research on public procurement. And this seems to me like an area of high research potential, so it may be worth keeping an eye on it!