Put problem solving first


Most city procurement departments identify a specific solution to a challenge and then find a firm to build it. A focus on defining the problem and facilitating problem solving, by contrast, empowers procurement staff to make the most of contractors’ expertise and creativity.

Start with a well-researched problem statement

The procurement process typically focuses on finding suppliers to provide identified solutions, which limits options to those imagined by city staff and fails to take advantage of the creativity of potential suppliers. By contrast, defining the problem in detail and issuing an RFP encourages innovation on the part of respondents. When drafting RFPs, cities can leverage research support from area universities and colleges, as Portland did with Lewis & Clark Law School when drafting its ride sharing regulations.

Empower procurement staff

Recognizing procurement as an opportunity for problem solving requires staff proficiency in identifying challenges, assessing internal capacity, and helping other city staff develop problem statements for RFPs. Training in human-centered design and other tools can empower staff to solve problems more effectively. Clear career pathways into procurement ensure that future hires have the skills they need to do their jobs well.

Collaborate broadly from the start

Procurement often implicates a wide variety of stakeholders. Aside from procurement staff and legal counsel, who should take part at all times, the mix of actors will vary depending on the issue at hand and may include other municipal departments as well as individuals from the private, civic, and philanthropic sectors. Having the right people at the table from the start (as opposed to a later comment stage) can help ensure that problems are well-defined and potential obstacles are avoided early in the process.