Blog II – Reducing the carbon footprint of public procurement – Kela Maternity package

Answers to the question: What is sustainability to you? By Group 2B.

These blog posts report on work-in-progress within the DfG course! The posts are written by groups dealing with the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment’s brief on ‘Reducing the carbon footprint of procurement services’.

Group 2c: Joosep Laht and Loren Córdoba from Collaborative and Industrial Design program, and Tessa Kauppinen and Junrui Li from Creative Sustainability program.

Where are we now?

After five very interesting and quickly passing weeks in this course investigating public procurements and maternity package, we are almost done with the research phase. Until now we have only focused on understanding the process and the problems there might be in the way of more sustainable public procurements. 

With the other two groups working with the same brief, we did a total of 19 interviews with different stakeholders. From the interviews with governmental actors, sustainability experts, maternity package suppliers and parents that have received the box, we got a broad view from many different angles. We have been mapping our findings with systems map and affinity diagram. 

Jungle of post-it notes in our affinity diagram.

This part of the course culminated in midterm-review presentations where we presented the problems we had identified at this point to our stakeholders from the government. 

Communication is the key 

The first problem space that we identified was that during the procurement process there is a lack of horizontal, proactive and open communication between the stakeholders. Especially between procurer and suppliers, but also more collaboration from procurer with experts and end-users could be beneficial. The lack of communication and collaboration is making it difficult for suppliers to fulfil all requirements, procurers to know the best criteria to use and is hindering new ideas and innovations from getting implemented. Also, fear of not understanding the criteria or law is hindering actors from more sustainable procurements. The comments from our stakeholders from the interviews highlight the needs for more communication:

“Companies would have ideas and suggestions that are never heard by the public sector”
– VTT representative

“Lots of samples are made, shipped, and wasted because suppliers are not sure what is wanted and there’s a lack of sufficient feedback about the reasons why samples are turned down.”
– Supplier representatives

What is sustainability?

Another problem space is that Kela’s and stakeholders’ idea of sustainability doesn’t match. There is a demand for better quality and more information about product sustainability from end-users, and also suppliers would be ready for higher sustainability levels, but the procurement process and criteria are not encouraging suppliers to offer more sustainable products yet. The brief is also mostly about reducing carbon footprint, whereas parents and suppliers are more considering material choices and supply chain responsibility, for example.  

In the Finnish textile industry, there are great innovations already and more ambitious sustainability goals developed continuously. Public procurements should be a way to promote these more sustainable innovations. This problem is also highly linked with communication – better interactions would help all participants understand sustainability needs better. 

A slide from our midterm presentation discussing stakeholders’ ideas of sustainability.

Valuable feedback

However, in the midterm review, we got a good insight as feedback from the government side that more open dialogue is sometimes difficult because companies are still competing against each other and don’t want to give each other their ideas. Definitely an interesting topic to dive deeper into! We also got feedback from the stakeholders that our findings are interesting and giving them something to think about. This was encouraging and gave us more excitement to move forward with this project.

From findings to solutions

During the next few weeks, we will be wrapping up our research phase and starting to move from findings to ideas for solutions. However, before that, we will have a relaxing Easter break, after which we are definitely ready to take this project to the next phase.

Group 2A: Xinghua Meng, Kalle Kaisko, Michael Buchta from the Creative Sustainability program and Amandine Fong from the Collaborative and Industrial Design program.

WANTED: Procurement process that promotes innovation and sustainability – Group 2A – Blog 2

You asked for it – we deliver

To begin, we want to say that we hear you and thus we’ll introduce our team. Below you can find a picture where we reenacted the conversation that helped us to define our focus area: procurer-producer relationship, procurement process and procurement practicalities.

Kalle enthusiastically explaining why working with the Maternity Box is so cool, and that by creating change in the procurement process of the Maternity Box, we have an opportunity to have a significant impact on the procurement processes in general. Screenshot from our Mid-term presentation.

For the last three weeks, we have been busy doing research. Together with the other groups working with the same brief, we have conducted 20 interviews and gone through several documents and reports to get a better understanding of what we are facing. We have utilized design tools like systems maps and affinity diagrams to identify key problem areas and fields of opportunities in the project.

What did we discover?

Our research culminated on Monday, March 29th when we presented our initial findings to Kela and the other stakeholders. From the research material, we have identified five themes and five insights, which we call fields of opportunities, related to those themes. We noticed that the current procurement criteria don’t support innovation or sustainable options, the dialogue between Kela and the producers is blatantly insufficient and that the uncertainties in the procurement process prevent producers from offering the best available products to the bidding contest. Additionally, even with the best possible resources, no change will happen unless the procurement unit is open for change and motivated and that the complexity and the vastness of the sustainability framework is too much for one procurement officer to grasp. The first three themes are tightly interlinked as you can see from the picture below.

White circles contain the themes and the related fields of opportunities are below each theme. Screenshot from our Mid-term presentation.

Multiple perspectives – multiple opinions

Coming back to the interviews, we were fortunate to hear from multiple perspectives around the topic. Let’s use the procurement contract’s length as an example. Here are a few quotes from different stakeholders:

“One year contract is a benefit for suppliers to follow up on cost changes“
– Kela

Longer contracts? “Yes. Depends on the years, not 5 or 10 but at least 2 years. Would reduce our work by half.”
– Producers

”Doing procurement yearly is problematic, since it’s difficult to get the sustainable fabric in small patches.“
– Producers

“Optimal interval for procurement process is 2-3 years. Doing it every year is more than what’s necessary.”
– Hansel

“In principle it [yearly procurement process] is a good thing, since it allows Kela to accumulate experience over the years and make changes yearly. Possibility to iterate.”
– VTT

By just reading these five quotes it’s quite evident that the stakeholders have totally different understanding on what is the optimal interval for the tendering process. We found the misalignment between Kela and the producers especially interesting. These quotes and interviews also demonstrated for us that with better communication between the stakeholders, problems like this could be avoided.

Mapping the system

We used the CATWOE method to get a better understanding and to identify crucial clusters in the system. This helped us to find our focus area and discover which organizations and persons would be most important for us to interview. By defining the focus area, we were also able to come up with better targeted and formulated questions for the interviewees. As creating the systems map became very handy for us, we encourage you to use such tools when facing similar problems and situations. Lastly, before you take a look at our map, I want to underline that the map is still a work in progress and we’ll be updating it as we learn more.

We are on the right track

The feedback we received from Kela and the other stakeholders that participated in the Mid-term review encouraged us that we are on to something. Next, we want to learn more about creating conditions that boost sustainable innovation in the procurement process and come up with solutions to enable a two-way dialogue between Kela (procurers in general) and the producers. But before we dive into the world of solutions, we are going to take a relaxing and well earned Easter break.

The next steps. Screenshot from our Mid-term presentation.

Group 2B: Andre Helgestad, Nicole Grekov and Sara D’Angelo from the Creative Sustainability program and Shreya Shrivastava from the Collaborative and Industrial Design program.

What is the goal of the maternity box in the 2020s?

Our group has chosen to focus on how to reframe or update the goals of the maternity box, from being a way to reduce child mortality to become a means of communicating and driving sustainability transitions in the public as well as in the textile industry. Today, buying clothes that are produced under fair labour conditions with sustainable materials is tough and to even consider the business model of the companies can be too much to ask from already stressed parents – maybe some professionals could help…

Although daunting at first sight, the EU directives on public procurement allow a variety of ways to perform innovative procurements, despite competition being mentioned 123 times; innovation 42 times; dialogue 37 times; and collaboration once(!).

This problem reframing did not arise out of thin air. The last couple of weeks has been especially dedicated to desktop research, interviews with 20 stakeholders (users, industry, procurement experts, consultancies, and public officials) and attempting to understand the process of public procurement. To understand the complexity involved in public procurement we have used generative design methods such as systems mapping and affinity diagrams and worked within the framework of leverage points to identify which aspects to focus on.

Tenderizing the tender

Our group has really been digging to find out exactly how a tender works, what it can do, what it cannot do and who works with it. You should know that there is a 2-year long process leading to the maternity box delivered in its entirety, and we have attempted to visualize this below. 

What is sustainability, really?

Sustainability is the possibility that humans and other life will flourish on Earth forever.”
– John R. Ehrenfeld

Most people are not sustainability experts, and thus their understanding of sustainability varies, probably even among sustainability experts too. We asked the question “what is sustainability for you?” in every interview and got very different answers. People have their own focus and mental models of what is sustainable, thus they (and we) might have distinct ways of approaching the subject.

Our interviews were very insightful, and I would like to thank those who participated and helped us understand public procurement from diverse perspectives. Additionally, those insights arose by probing the interviewees with the best practices in circular procurement and asking questions like “what is in the way of making this happen”, our group finally synthesized some barriers based on the insights.

Barriers:

Communication
  • Constrained information flows and lack of efficient feedback and dialogue.
  • Different understandings of sustainability.
Attitudes
  • Fear of failure and repercussions like being sued in market court.
  • Fixed process and box that is rooted in tradition.
  • Equality for all trumps diverse needs.
  • Linear thinking around product life cycle.
  • Reducing unsustainability by measures – less CO2.

Opportunities:

Fortunately, there are many opportunities we have identified from interviews that could ensure procurement practices that encourage the development of innovative services.

  • Elicit industry feedback and dialogue through drafting tender requests.
  • Encourage circular business models and demand socially just production.
  • Embrace niche innovations’ potential in the tender.
  • Ensure intergovernmental collaboration for support.
  • Educate end-users (parents) about product impacts and mitigation.

That sounds fine and all, everything starts with E’s to make it memorable as well, but how? We do not have the answer to that yet either, but we are hoping to find out in the next few weeks! Please click the hyperlinks if you are curious to understand more about how we arrived at our problem definitions.

Since we are not a tender and will not try to sell you anything, we can arrange workshops where you can figure out the opportunities that exist! If you see your organization in the systems map below– consider yourself a workshop candidate for how to make the maternity box the next best practice case in circular public procurement.

Systems map

The DfG course runs for 14 weeks each spring – the 2021 course has now started and runs from 01 Mar to 24 May. It’s an advanced studio course in which students work in multidisciplinary teams to address project briefs commissioned by governmental ministries in Finland. The course proceeds through the spring as a series of teaching modules in which various research and design methods are applied to addressing the project briefs. Blog posts are written by student groups, in which they share news, experiences and insights from within the course activities and their project development. More information here about the DfG 2021 project briefs. Hold the date for the public online finale online 09:00-12:00 AM (EEST) on Monday 24 May!

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