This page is part of our successful commissioning toolkit.

The general principles should be applied sensibly. In particular, think about:

  • Simplicity and proportionality.  Processes, including commissioning, should be as simple as possible and proportionate.  Financial controls, monitoring and evaluation requirements and external inspection should be intelligently designed and implemented [Note 1]
  • Transparency.  The more you can be open about your commissioning process, the more others – especially potential providers and any losers in the commissioning process – will see that the process is fair. They will be more likely to accept the outcome, even if they do not like it.
  • Joining up. Do not see your programme and its outcomes, and the commissioning process you put in place for it, in isolation. It is often inefficient for both public bodies and third sector organisations (TSOs). to manage multiple funding streams in the same policy or geographical area. Your programme may achieve more if it recognises that its outcomes may  be shared with others or complementary to what they seek to achieve.
  • Making time in the process.  Less haste, more speed is a good rule of thumb. In particular, allow yourself time up front for planning, before you get into financial arrangements. Allow potential providers adequate time to reflect properly on your communications and respond appropriately.
  • Mutual understanding. If you and the provider understand each other’s needs, in line with the Compact, this should help avoid problems and achieve outcomes. [Note 2]
  • Distinct knowledge and experience.  Recognise that third sector organisations are often close to their clients – a friend as well as a service provider. This is likely to give a TSO advantages in providing services commissioned by a public body. And, in turn, help the public body meet its own outcomes.
  • Involving the sector.  Commissioning can seem like a one-way process: you hold the money and determine your desired outcomes; the TSOs have to bid for grants or contracts to deliver these.  But, as the Compact recognises, a better result for all can be achieved if public sector and third sector work in partnership. Such a partnership can be achieved at any point in the commissioning process and within the rules of procurement and grant-making.
  • Risk management. Manage risk, do not seek to eliminate it. This would be both impractical  – since the cost of removing all risks may be far more than the costs of risks if they materialise – and undesirable – since well-managed risk taking also presents opportunities to innovate, experiment and develop new ideas where more traditional ways of working are not able to deliver real change. Neither should you transfer risk unreasonably [see Risk management].
  • Focus on outcomes.  A poor approach to funding or to the commissioning process is less likely to lead to positive outcomes. But no matter how good your approach and processes are, it is the outcomes which count. Your main attention must be on achieving the outcomes sought (see Designing services).


Note 1: National Audit Office, Intelligent Monitoring, June 2009

Note 2: In this guidance, we use the term ‘provider’ to mean a TSO commissioned by a public body to deliver agreed outcomes.

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Successful commissioning toolkit: Table of contents

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