New report on government commissioning of social research

A UK study into government commissioning of social research has concluded that any of the three procurement methods currently used can be successful, provided best practice is utilised. It also found that procurement method does not substantially affects the relationship between supplier and supplier.

The empirical study, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, was commissioned by the Social Research Association and undertaken by Carol Goldstone Associates. Its main aims were to:

  • examine the ways that current procurement procedures for social research facilitate or constrain the development of constructive relationships between commissioners and suppliers; and
  • explore the ways that different procurement procedures are perceived to affect the choice of researchers, the research methods used and the quality of the final outputs.

What are the main types of procurement?

The three main types of procurement method used for project-based commissioning within central government and agencies are:

  • OJEU frameworks, which require mini-competitions between lots;
  • non-OJEU frameworks, where social research is classified as research and development and single tender selection is allowed; and
  • project based procurement using open competition. Most frameworks are open for use by other public sector bodies.


  • Greater use of a wide range of methods for procuring social research.
  • If suppliers are placed on Framework Agreements then they should be given opportunities over the lifetime of the agreement to bid for available work.
  • Research should be published enabling both OJEU and non OJEU frameworks to be equally valid options.
  • Very careful consideration needs to be given to the value of setting up any new Framework Agreements at the present time of reduced funding. A restricted form of Open competition, where it is well managed, may result in minimising wasted resources.
  • Departments or agencies using Framework Agreements devised for other departments should use frameworks orgranised by methodology rather than topic areas. A restricted form of Open Competition might be an even better way forward.
  • Buyers should reduce the work involved in providing pre-qualification information.
  • Buyers should provide a clear brief, particularly if no indicative budget is given. The inclusion of an indicative budget enables researchers to provide proposals offering the best possible value for money.
  • The optimum number of achieved full proposals is four. Only those suppliers with a serious chance of winning should be asked to submit a full tender.
  • Using a two-stage procurement process greatly reduces the cost of tendering and commissioning within an Open Competition model and is also recommended for use within large lots in Framework Agreements.
  • To be effective, Expressions of Interest need to be short and to the point. A limit of 750 words is preferred by suppliers.
  • Procurement practice should not be so inflexible as to preclude pre-specification discussions on the occasions commissioners wish to hold them, but issues of intellectual copyright should be fully recognised.
  • Pre-tender clarifications need to be improved to balance the buyer’s need for fair and open competition with the protection of a supplier’s Intellectual Property rights.
  • Face to face meetings should be used in competitive situations for all but small projects.
  • Clear and timely feedback should be an essential part of the commissioning process. Buyers need to ensure that they budget time to give this feedback and only ask for the number of full tenders to which they can respond.
  • Find ways to encourage small and new social research organisations to be able to undertake commissioned research including reducing the bureaucratic burden.
  • Public bodies’ procurement processed should be clearly specified in the relevant documentation and websites.

The full report can be downloaded from the SRA website.

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Nuffield Foundation

The Nuffield Foundation is a charitable trust endowed by William Morris, Lord Nuffield, the founder of Morris Motors. Our aim is to improve social well-being in the widest sense, primarily by funding research and innovation in education and social policy. We also work to build capacity in education, science and social science research.

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