Government Digital Service Podcast Episode #9: An interview with Chantal Donaldson-Foyer and Warren Smith on corruption and the Global Digital Marketplace
In the latest episode of the GDS podcast, senior writer Sarah Stewart talks to Chantal Donaldson-Foyer, Head of Product and Warren Smith, Programme Director about the Global Digital Marketplace. The trio discuss how the Global Digital Marketplace is helping to tackle corruption, a $2.6 trillion problem.
Sarah Stewart: Hello, and welcome to the GDS Podcast. I’m Sarah Stewart, I’m a senior writer at the Government Digital Service. I’m in the studio today with two aficionados in the world of government procurement, Chantal Donaldson-Foyer and Warren Smith. Chantal, you’re head of product for the Global Digital Marketplace and Warren, you are the programme director for the Global Digital Marketplace. Welcome to you both.
Chantal Donaldson-Foyer: Thank you.
Warren Smith: Thank you very much.
Sarah: So just to start off, could you tell me a little bit more about your roles, what exactly you do?
Chantal: All right. So as head of product of the Global Digital Marketplace, I look after the programme as a whole in terms of our offering and what we’re going to do with the country. So we’ve got teams who are looking after each region and I help the product managers for each of these regions build up their offer and actually deliver it.
Sarah: Cool, Warren?
Warren: So, I have the easy job, I set the direction, the vision and make sure that we have the senior stakeholder relationships maintained in our partner countries, and that includes with the FCO as well.
Sarah: Now, government procurement enthusiasts will know what the Digital Marketplace is – but for those who don’t I thought it would be a good idea to do a quick recap before we move onto talk about your international work. So what is the Digital Marketplace?
Warren: The Digital Marketplace is a platform that is available to all of the UK public sector to enable them to buy digital data and technology products and services in support of government transformation.
Sarah: And we do that along with the Crown Commercial Service?
Warren: Yes, we do, they’re a key partner organisation for us in the Cabinet Office.
Sarah: Now, before the pair of you worked on the Global Digital Marketplace you were also on the Digital Marketplace.
Sarah: I did describe you as aficionados earlier, so I’m going to put this claim to the test, and enrich our listeners understanding, and try and make government procurement even more interesting, with a quiz.
Warren: Love it.
Sarah: You’re going head-to-head.
Chantal: No pressure.
Sarah: No pressure. Okay, so this is on the Digital Marketplace. What happens when you open up the procurement market to suppliers of all sizes rather than just big tech companies? I’ve a list of four things that you could possibly pick from.
Warren: Oh, it’s multiple choice.
Chantal: Okay, yes.
Sarah: It’s multiple choice.
Warren: You encourage a more diverse supply chain to be involved.
Sarah: That’s on my list. Okay, well done.
Chantal: You get better value for money.
Sarah: That’s correct. It’s happening even in the room as we speak. There’s the air of…
Warren: Anticipation? (Laughter)
Sarah: I was going for competition. The increasing competition. And also the locations are more diverse.
Warren: Of course. Yes.
Sarah: Okay, this might be slightly harder. Second question, what was the Digital Marketplace’s total sales figure at the end of March?
Warren: £5.7 billion.
Sarah: Wow, correct. Okay, can you tell me what is the government’s aspirational target figure for SME spend?
Chantal: The target figure is £1 in every £3 to be spent with SME.
Sarah: By which date? Bonus question.
Sarah: Which government launched its own digital marketplace in record time by working with us and using our open source code?
Sarah: The bonus question, how many weeks did Australia take to launch its own digital marketplace?
Sarah: Five is the correct answer
Warren: 5 weeks, good on them.
Sarah: I have to say, yes, very good, good job. I’ve got to say, it’s a relief between the pair of you, you both got them right. So I think we’re all up to speed on the digital marketplace, so let’s go global. What is the Global Digital Marketplace?
Warren: The Global Digital Marketplace is a programme that’s working in partnership with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office aimed to help overseas governments in emerging economies to tackle corruption by transforming their procurement of digital data and technology products and services.
Sarah: How did that come about?
Warren: It was mainly following the summit that took place in 2016. Where it was felt that there was an opportunity to apply the same approaches that we’ve taken in the UK to open up markets to open up procurement and make it more transparent as a way of helping to tackle closed markets, closed processes, and more opaque processes that are often the breeding ground for corruption so that was really the sort of genesis of the concept that became the Global Digital Marketplace programme.
Sarah: The corruption angle is very interesting,how in practical terms is this corruption happening?
Warren: So it’s a good question. I think when considering corruption you have to look at the whole system in which corruption is taking place. On the one end you’ve got the very obvious corruption which is where individuals are for personal gain misappropriating public funds, but I think you also have to look on the opposite end of the spectrum where weaknesses within the system could lead to corrupt practices to take place. So perhaps inefficiency and effectiveness within government processes or the systems, or opacity within those processes, a lack of transparency, these are all opportunities for reform and are often the breeding ground for where the corruption can start to manifest.
I think certainly the Global Digital Marketplace Programme is focusing on designing out opportunities for corruption to take place and focusing on the people involved so that we can help to build capability and increase integrity.
Sarah: We spend $9.5 trillion a year, so that’s global government procurement spend, and that’s not just IT, and of that number 2.6 trillion, which is nearly 30%, is lost through bribery or corruption.
Sarah: So it’s a huge thing that you’re trying to tackle here. How exactly does it work, how did you begin this process?
Warren: So we first engaged with a range of governments that were priority countries for the FCO. This is after we got the endorsement and the backing to actually take this approach. It all really starts by having the conversations with the governments and the supply chains and civil society organisations within those countries to understand what are the barriers, what are the challenges, and equally what are the opportunities for how we can work together.
We’re not claiming that we’ve solved the problem by any means in the UK but we’ve made a start, and an important start, in showing that a different way of thinking and working in – to tackle procurement is – it is possible. We also look to opportunities to how we can learn from other governments as well as sharing what we’ve been able to achieve in the UK.
Sarah: I’m really interested in the diplomatic angle here, because – say for example your friend is singing very, very badly, you might not want to tell them directly they’re singing very, very badly but it’s in everyone’s interest for them to get better. How do you approach governments, like what’s your first step, and do you take a different approach for every country, do you go and meet them?
Warren: Yes, and that’s a really important point, is not to take a standard one size fits all approach, you have to tailor your engagement approach depending on the context, and, yes, I’ve got loads of friends who are terrible singers-
Sarah: Even in a band?
Warren: I know, yes, myself included, that’s why I’m never on the vocals. So very quickly, even though the kind of the starting point for the conversation is around tackling corruption and procurement reform, very quickly the conversations turn to government transformation and public service transformation and greater openness and transparency of government.
So I think it’s really important to see the antithesis of the negative and focus on the positive, because that’s very much where the impact and the outcomes that we want to achieve are associated. Yes, that’s how we shift the conversation to one of the future positive.
Sarah: And so for the record, who, which countries are we dealing with?
Chantal: All right, so we are currently in five countries, so that’s in Latin America, Mexico and Columbia and South Africa in Southern Africa and Indonesia and Malaysia in Southeast Asia.
Sarah: What about the discovery work, so how does that kick off?
Chantal: So actually to do the discovery we engaged with the UK supply chain to help us conduct all of the research that was necessary for us to define what the delivery of the programme was going to be. So we worked with four partners who come with us to the country and try and understand what are the opportunities that exist, what current best practices or great examples we could kind of build and grow further, and also what the challenges were in the countries to understand where we could add value and where we could work together, share our experience, see whether that can help them, or not.
Sarah: So can you tell me some of the things that came out of that early stage discussion work with the suppliers? What kinds of things were they saying about what they wanted?
Chantal: Each of the suppliers had a different area of expertise, and an area that they were looking at in countries across all five countries, and including some of our team and some people from GDS came along to the discovery. So actually over the last five weeks, four weeks, we’ve been working together in workshops to define what we have found, because actually we think that by bringing together all our findings we can come up with a better rationale rather than everyone working on their own, so we’re just currently formulating what our findings are.
I think there are several themes that come out, but overall the Global Digital Marketplace is looking at things beyond just the digital marketplace, so it’s all its associated reforms, looking at the standards and assurance process before contracts are awarded, the spend control process, then how procurements are designed, how contracts are designed, then the assurance of the delivery itself, how data underpins all of that, as well as the capabilities that are available in countries, and so together we’ve reviewed all of that and pretty much in all countries found opportunities at each of these levels I think, and in terms of transparency, an exciting part of that is looking at how we could help these countries share more of their data in the open contracting data standard.
Sarah:How were those countries identified in the first place?
Warren: So we were provided with a long list of potential partner countries by the FCO, which are priority countries for them in terms of anti-corruption. It was necessary for us to prioritise out of that long list, because we’re a small team to begin with, so we used a range of publicly available indexes to give us a general measure of complexity. Things like the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, and various others from, like, the OECD and such like, so that gave us a, yes, an overall score which enabled us to put countries into two different tiers, so we focused on the tier one countries effectively.
Why can't the UK government just write a how-to guide and provide some open source code and let a government get on with it?
Chantal: I think part of what we’re trying to do as well is show our way of working, so bringing user-centred design principles as well as our agile ways of working into our delivery so that we can share that with partner countries live, and so that they can really experience it and feel it, rather than just reading something, some nice guidance and some stats about how it makes things better, but actually being there, feeling it, engaging with the users directly is so powerful that no guide would be able to match that kind of experience, and I think that’s why we wanted our delivery to be very much implementation focused because that’s the best way to learn.
Warren: I think just building on that, I mean, that’s exactly what we did for Australia as a bit of an experiment in 2016. They could have just come in and taken the code but actually it was the combination of open source code and technical assistance from UK government, in terms of GDS, sending some people from the team to spend the time with them to take the code and to implement, I think that’s what – it was the combination of those things which led to their delivery in just five weeks.
Sarah: So how do you work with five countries, like what does your month look like, where are you touch points, how do you meet, how do you collaborate?
Chantal: Well, it’s quite hard, especially when you look at it on a map and think about just the time zone problem, it’s a massive challenge for our team, but it’s also really exciting because we get to work together with the overseas Embassies and High Commissions who support us on the ground. Yes, so we do visits every few months in country and then use other tools to be able to talk, stay close.
Warren: We use Slack we use Hang Outs, so even though we are geographically distant and time zone presents a challenge it’s still possible to have a working relationship with a highly distributed team, I think, yes.
Sarah: I’d like to talk a little bit about MOUs, Memorandums of Understanding. You’ve just signed some, tell me about those.
Warren: Yes, at the beginning of March, Kevin, our director general, signed three MOUs with some not for profit organisations to support Global Digital Marketplace. That’s really exciting. It’s been some time in the making but we’ve got there so, yes, each of those organisations are recognised globally for their leadership, for their skills, for their experience and capabilities, all of which support the strategic direction of Global Digital Marketplace. So
Warren: The first is the Organisation for International Economic Relations, or the OIER Which is also the organisation that’s behind an initiative called ‘United Smart Cities’.
Sarah: Where are they based?
Warren: Vienna. The second is the Open Contracting Partnership, or OCP, and the third is the International Association for Contract and Commercial Management, or the IACCM. The OIER and United Smart Cities are focused on implementing information communication and technologies to support the delivery of sustainable smart cities. They are active across the globe in a number of cities and they are closely linked to a number of United Nations agencies as well.
The Open Contracting Partnership is an organisation that’s spun out from the World Bank and they developed the open contracting data standard. They are huge advocates and great campaigners for greater transparency in public procurement, and the Open Contracting Data Standard , or the OCDS, is a key element of the Global Digital Marketplace programme delivery, and the third, the IACCM, is a globally recognised organisation that’s focused on building capability and capacity in commercial and contracting.
Sarah: What does their signing the MOU mean in real terms?
Warren: It gives us the ability to align on common areas of interest. It gives us the ability to identify countries where we have a common interest in and where we’re already engaging, and it also gives us the ability to bring together those – the skill sets of the different organisations and thinking about the collective rather than the individual.
We have a workshop planned in a couple of weeks’ time in Vienna where we bring together all of the organisations, and we look forward to the next 12, 18 months and identifying those opportunities for collaborative delivery. It’s really important that we look at the tangible delivery opportunities that can draw on the individual capabilities of each organisation.
Sarah: Where are you in the process now, you’re collecting feedback from the discoveries?
Chantal: Currently we are analysing still the findings from - well, we’re towards the end of that, but we’ve done the trips to the five countries, we’ve brought together all the teams that have been doing that, so both client and GDS, and we’ve brought together the findings and now we’re developing the recommendation. This is going to be a kind of a long list, that we’re going back into countries to present and discuss and shape that together with our key stakeholders there what the next phase of delivery is going to look like.
Our next phase is our alpha phase where we want to pilot different types of approaches, so we’re just trying to see what will that exactly look like and also how does that fit in with what the stakeholders in each country want to achieve, and matching that is our next step
Sarah: So are you working with just national governments or sub-national governments?
Warren: Both, yes.
Sarah: How does your approach differ
Warren: The engagement approach is consistent. I think the challenges faced are different. In very much consistent with the UK sub-national, are closest to frontline service delivery, so either city or municipality level, and national obviously is trying to take a national view on what to do.
What we’re trying to do is transcend those organisational boundaries, and actually there is a level between that which might be, say, states in which obviously there are multiple cities or districts, so it’s looking at, okay, what are the needs of each of the different levels of government, where are the challenges, and what are the opportunities that we can help to bring together coordination between national efforts and sub-national efforts on the ground.
Sarah: Are you on a timer here? What are your target delivery dates?
Warren: Ultimately we’re funded until 2022, which is in line with the UK’s anti- corruption strategy, so that’s another 3 years on that current funding envelope, and while we’re taking the long view we’re looking at how we can then break that down into the next 6, 12, 18 months, and always have a rolling view of what our activities are likely to be notching through that time period.
Sarah: Will you identify any other places to work?
Sarah: Because I saw a map.
Warren: There’s always a map.
Sarah: I've seen a map and they had some some rather exotic locations, but I saw Bristol.
Warren: I wanted to, in that map, I wanted to call out a couple of UK cities. The list to call out is too long on that small map, but initiatives like the Local Digital Declaration and leading local government organisations who are really showing the way in terms of what digital transformation can look like at a local level. Calling those out on the map gives us the ability to bring together stakeholders who are trying to do the same thing in different countries around the world.
So, for example, the profile of Bristol might be very close to a city in Indonesia where they have a similar demographic or they have a similar set of challenges, there could be value in bringing those stakeholders together to share information, share technologies, share approaches, share lessons learned so that everybody can benefit from one another. That’s certainly a really key part of what we’re trying to do, is bring together and form a global community of reformers where procurement transformation is the heart of their digital transformation as well.
Sarah: It’s a bit like town twinning for the digital age.
Warren: Funny you should say that because that’s exactly how… Yes, digital twins.
Chantal: I would add also that we’re seeing really interesting initiatives in some of our partner countries and we’d like to explore the idea of exchanging experiences between them, so it’s not just a UK to another country exchange but really this community is self-organised and has people talking all over the world. That’s the ambition at least.
Warren: Absolutely, and it’s multi-stakeholder, it’s multi-directional, so it’s not about, as you say Chantal, it’s not UK pushing out to others, it’s actually this we’ve got a lot to learn from other governments, the flow of information and expertise should be multi-directional and, yes, when you start connecting different regions and governments in those regions , and the UK is kind of convening that, I think that presents some really interesting opportunities.
Yes, so while we’re focused on the Global Digital Marketplace programme as funded by the FCO with an anti-corruption focus, there’s certainly an opportunity to look beyond that and maybe that’s the next phase of our work.
Sarah: So what kinds of initiatives have piqued your interests across the globe?
Chantal: think the most exciting initiative I came across was probably in Guadalajara in the Mexican state of Jalisco, where we saw that they’ve done some incredible work at mapping the city and mapping different services, so it’s city services across the city so that you could see what was happening where, and also the town planning so this could inform their future policies and interventions, which was just really, really remarkable.
Warren: A couple that I have seen. For example, in Malaysia, Selangor State, they have a very bold ambition to be the smartest state in the Association of Southeast Asia Nations by, I think 2026. That’s all about embracing digital civic participation to deliver transform public services, so their Smart Selangor Delivery Unit is one of our key stakeholders in Malaysia. Equally, in Indonesia, West Java province, so the current governor of West Java was the former mayor of Bandung City, Ridwan Kamil, so he’s a very forward thinking, senior leader who understands the role of digital and technology in delivering transformed public services. Again, they’re likely to be a key partner for us.
Chantal:Yes, we’ve seen the Colombian procurement body Colombia Compra Eficiente, they’ve published a whole bunch of their data in the Open Contracting Data Standard quite recently so that’s been a really fantastic initiative we’ve seen.
Warren: Equally, Mexico are very forward in terms of their embracing Open Contracting Data Standard.
Sarah: That’s quite a lot.
Warren: Yes, so this is I think what’s exciting, it’s not only understanding the opportunities for what we can do together in a country, it’s what we can learn from other countries where they’ve perhaps been a step or two ahead of the UK.
Chantal: An example in South Africa is that they have a central supplier database, which was developed quite a few years ago, but is actually a really good example of how having data in one place is actually incredibly powerful. Different ministries are essentially able to draw from that to be able to sense check the suppliers that are bidding for their procurements so that’s been a very impressive piece of work we’ve seen.
Sarah: In your Indonesian example you touched on leadership, how much of your work is around leadership and culture?
Warren: I think that’s absolutely integral to all of it. We have been identifying who are our key stakeholders to lead and sponsor, but also how do we ensure that when we’re working together that they have that vision and the direction and they’re able to bring their teams along with them? There was an article published I think just last week actually in GovInsider talking about the CIO for Malaysia, and she’s fantastic, she’s visited GDS at least once, I think a couple of times, and so when we were presenting to her actually the tables turned quite quickly and she was basically presenting to us about how they’re using GDS standards and approaches as their benchmark for how to deliver their transformation. It makes for a very engaging and compelling conversation when the leaders within the countries are basically saying we want to align around these kinds of principles and practices which then means that we’ve got a really solid foundation for a good conversation and delivery.
Sarah: Is it possible to identify any quick wins against corruption? Is it a case of just making contracts really, really simple and then you can, you know, that’s the first step in winning the battle?
Chantal: I like that making contracts simple as a quick win, because contracts are certainly a very difficult challenge I think generally in the world of procurement. I think there isn’t really a quick win in tackling something as systemic as corruption, but I think there is something around starting small and choosing a very specific area in a location, in a sub-national government for example, and trying to build that out. Showing how that works, and also building the buy-in of stakeholders across the board that this approach can work. I think it’s not really about quick wins, more about choosing – starting small, testing it out, iterating it and growing it in the long term.
Warren: I think that relates also to your question around culture, because the ingrained systemic issues of corruption can often be quite an overwhelming thing to tackle, by demonstrating, as Chantal says, that it is possible to take a different approach by starting small, demonstrating a success, building trust and building confidence and bringing people along with you on that journey and then scaling from there and I think it’s hugely satisfying when you can see the delight in a stakeholder or the users, to see, “Oh my goodness, change is possible,” and people are really looking for that change. So, yes, it’s that approach of incremental and iterative and then scaling from there I think is absolutely key.
Sarah:The Global Digital Marketplace is a partnership between GDS and the Foreign Office, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who does what?
Warren: GDS is responsible for the delivery of the programme. FCO, they’re responsible for a broader overarching programme which is called the ‘Global Anti-corruption Programme’. That contains a number of activities of which the Global Digital Marketplace Programme is one. They’re managing quite a diverse portfolio of activities that involve a number of other government departments, some multilateral organisations like the OECD and the UN are involved as well. Our focus and our responsibility is on delivering against the objections that we’ve set which will help to achieve the more broader objectives of the FCO’s Global Anti-corruption Programme.
Sarah: Will we continue to engage with suppliers going forward, and if so how?
Warren: Absolutely. In exactly the same way as we have done in the UK, the supply chain is an absolutely critical element for our transformation. We would mirror that approach in our engagements, particularly as we move beyond discovery and transition into alpha we will be reengaging with our supply chain partners in the UK to share the opportunities for how they could work with us to support Global Digital Marketplace delivery over the next 12 to 18 months.
Sarah: What will be keeping you busy in the short term?
Chantal: What’s keeping us busy is the trips to our partner countries because we’re, as I mentioned earlier, going there to present what we think might be good activities for the next stage and discussing and shaping that with them, so over the next two, three months we’re going to go over different parts of the team, but I think it’s that coordination of who’s going out when that’s currently keeping us busy, and then actually being in country and engaging and running workshops, presenting our findings, that’s really what’s going to be the next, yes, the next phase.
Warren: Yes, and that’s not without its complexity because we are engaging with a broad spectrum of stakeholders, the decision makers in the country, the people that we want to partner with in order to support our delivery, and that includes domestic supply chain in country as well as civil society organisations.Trying to line up the right people to gain their buy-in and their support for our plan going forward is absolutely critical. We have to be respectful of their availability so, yes, that’s going to be a diary challenge for us all.
Sarah: So you’ve been here since nearly the beginning of GDS’ creation, could you have imagined that the Digital Marketplace would be global?
Warren: No, certainly not at the beginning. I think it goes back to – it absolutely goes back to Chantal’s point of the importance and the power of starting small, iterating and then scaling those approaches, which is effectively what we’ve – what we’re doing now, and the fact that the digital marketplace is now being seen by the Crown Commercial Service as a key enabler for their transformation I think is testament to the fact that the successes of what we’ve seen through the Digital Marketplace so far have been recognised, and now we can build upon those things from a domestic UK perspective, and equally the same goes for overseas with the Global Digital Marketplace programme. Yes, it certainly wasn’t the anticipation from day one but nice to see that evolution, yeah.
Sarah: Can you tell me about the makeup of the Global Digital Marketplace team, who have you got in there?
Chantal: So the Global Digital Marketplace team is growing right now, so we’ve been doing a whole bunch of hiring in the last couple of months and are still in the process of doing that. I’ll talk about what our finished team will look like, but essentially so we’re going to have a product and delivery duo looking after a region, so three, we’ve got three regions, and then we’ve got subject matter expertise on digital and data and technology skills and capabilities, commercial and commissioning, as well as-
Warren: Standards assurance.
Chantal: Standards and assurance. Then we’ve got also, in our different partner countries, we’ve got delivery support in each of the Embassies or High Commissions who are supporting the delivery on the ground
Warren: So that shape is suited to our activity over the next kind of 12, 18 months, isn’t it? We would naturally look to shape and reshape the team if we need to, but certainly the roles that you’ve articulated, Chantal, those are our core civil servant delivery focused roles that we’ve been putting in place.
Chantal: Yes, and I would also add to that. We’ve been supported by different teams in GDS as well, so the standards and assurance team have supported us on our discovery as well as the digital data and technology capabilities team. They’ve been crucial at shaping what our discoveries were like and the kinds of things we were investigating, and some of which have – some of who have also joined us on our discovery trips.
Sarah: Where can people find out more about your work?
Warren: The GDS blog. Yes, certainly the GDS social media channels. We would like to be regularly talking about the work that we’re doing, being open about the work, and once we’ve had an opportunity to share discovery, insights and propositions with our stakeholders in country we’d like to be able to talk about that openly as well, so keep your eye out for that.
Sarah: Excellent. Well thank you so much for joining me on the GDS podcast, it’s been a pleasure to learn more about the work that you’re doing
Warren: Thank you for having us.
Chantal: Thank you.