Procurement

Implementing an outcomes-based approach to procurement in Philadelphia

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Philadelphia’s FastFWD procurement program focused on well-defined problems rather than prescriptive processes, leading to solutions that were more innovative and less expensive.

Challenge

Restrictive government procurement regulations and processes discourage innovation on the part of companies that have useful products and services to sell to cities. Government entities tend to focus on the product they want to purchase instead of articulating the problem they would like to solve and letting outside actors design possible solutions.

Solution

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter launched FastFWD as a new approach to procurement that focused on problem definition and support for entrepreneurial solutions. Funded by an award from the Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge, FastFWD was a citywide accelerator program that supported entrepreneurs working to improve public safety (round 1) and community stability (round 2). The city’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, other city agencies, the Wharton Social Impact Initiative, Good Company Ventures, the University of the Arts, and a number of other stakeholders collaborated on the program. FastFWD also funded the city’s initial engagement with NYC-based Citymart.

Although the FastFWD program ended in 2015, its success laid the foundation for Philadelphia’s ongoing partnership with Citymart, which is helping the city issue RFPs on traffic behavior, green stormwater infrastructure, and smart city technology.

Timeline

2012

2013

  • March
    PSEP wins the Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge and receives $1 million, which enables the city to invest in new, but potentially riskier, approaches to problem solving.
  • April
    Wharton Social Impact Initiative and Good Company Ventures partner with city on PSEP.
    PSEP’s Zero Stage workshop identifies key challenges in the city. This workshop and expert interviews lead to a focus on public safety solutions.
  • October
    Mayor Nutter announces launch of FastFWD (the new name for PSEP), a problem-centered procurement effort focused on public safety.
  • December
    Applications for first cohort due.

2014

  • January
    Harvard’s Kennedy School submits a field scan on innovation in procurement to the city. Cross-agency working group of city employees continues to advocate for procurement reform from within city government.
  • February 
    First cohort begins 12-week accelerator program, with Good Company Ventures, University of the Arts facilitating program activities.
  • September
    Second cohort begins 12-week accelerator program.

2015

  • February
    City posts an RFP to capture lessons learned from FastFWD.
  • September
    Citymart announces Philadelphia will be one of a handful of U.S. clients.
  • December
    Citymart and Office of New Urban Mechanics issue RFI on pedestrian safety.

2016

  • January
    New Mayor Jim Kenney closes Office of New Urban Mechanics and FastFWD, moves responsibility for procurement innovation to Chief Administrative Officer and Office of Innovation and Technology.
  • Summer
    Citymart and Philadelphia’s Office of Innovation and Technology issue RFIs on smart city technology and green stormwater infrastructure.

Lessons learned

Pilot programs can drive innovation and collaboration in city government

A cross-agency working group created to support FastFWD fostered an ethic of collaboration among participants. The successes of this group suggest that similar working groups can be used to address challenges that involve multiple parts of city government.

Partnerships are critical to city innovation

The FastFWD effort relied on outside help from the Wharton School, Harvard’s Kennedy School, Good Company Ventures, and University of the Arts for everything from program design to problem clarification to running accelerator programs. While cities need to build internal support for change, they also can draw on outside sources of expertise and support.

A focus on well-defined problems rather than explicit solutions could work for other city government processes

A problem-first mindset leads to more creative solutions that can draw on the expertise of a wide range of stakeholders. City governments should explore how adopting a clear problem definition process from the start can support greater innovation in public service delivery of all kinds.

Cities and startups need to forge a shared vision

Cities and startups have different timelines and different perspectives on risk that can pose sizable barriers to collaboration. Unfortunately, existing procurement processes typically do not address these challenges. Paying attention to these differences can help get all involved on the same page as they work together toward a common goal.