Reflecting on data-driven and digital procurement governance through two elephant tales

Elephants in a 13th century manuscript.  THE BRITISH LIBRARY/ROYAL 12 F XIII

Elephants in a 13th century manuscript. THE BRITISH LIBRARY/ROYAL 12 F XIII

I have uploaded to SSRN the new paper ‘Data-driven and digital procurement governance: Revisiting two well-known elephant tales‘ (21 Aug 2019), which I will present at the Annual Conference of the IALS Information Law & Policy Centre on 22 November 2019.

The paper condenses my current thoughts about the obstacles for the deployment of data-driven digital procurement governance due to a lack of reliable quality procurement data sources, as well as my skepticism about the potential for blockchain-based solutions, including smart contracts, to have a significant impact in public procurement setting where the public buyer is extremely unlikely to give up centralised control of the procurement function. The abstract of the paper is as follows:

This paper takes the dearth of quality procurement data as an empirical point of departure to assess emerging regulatory trends in data-driven and digital public procurement governance and, in particular, the European Commission’s ambition for the single digital procurement market. It resorts to two well-known elephant tales to send a message of caution. It first appeals to the image of medieval bestiary elephants to stress the need to develop a better data architecture that reveals the real state of the procurement landscape, and for the European Commission to stop relying on bad data in the Single Market Scoreboard. The paper then assesses the promises of blockchain and smart contracts for procurement governance and raises the prospect that these may be new white elephants that do not offer significant advantages over existing sophisticated databases, or beyond narrow back-office applications—which leaves a number of unanswered questions regarding the desirability of their implementation. The paper concludes by advocating for EU policymakers to concentrate on developing an adequate data architecture to enable digital procurement governance.

If nothing else, I hope the two elephant tales are convincing.