Rethinking how the public sector buys tech

When done badly, procurement – the processes through which central government and the public sector buys goods and services – risks wasting limited government funds, leaking public data into the hands of tech companies, exacerbating digital exclusion and irreparably damaging trust in the public sector. 

And it’s because digital procurement speaks to challenges that lie at the heart of our democracy, that in order to realise our vision for a world in which responsible technology is the new normal, that we can’t ignore the role the public sector must play. 

So over the next six months, with funding from the Legal Education Foundation, we’re exploring how we can transform the processes, tools and culture of digital procurement within public institutions with our new Responsible Procurement programme

Why we need responsible procurement

If 2018 was the year of the techlash – when the public’s faith in big tech finally broke in the wake of weekly scandals around data breaches, tax-dodging and democratic disruption – then this year is techlash 2.0 – the government edition. 

In July Amazon workers joined forces with the American public to protest the company’s work with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement to create technologies that track down would-be deportees. And national governments from India to Uganda have come under fire from civil rights group for embracing tech-enabled mass state surveillance. 

Back in the UK, indiscriminate police use of facial recognition and the integration of damaging algorithms into the welfare system have become lightning rods for public anger around the government’s use of technology. 

For responsible technology to become the new normal, the public sector and government must do more than simply seek to regulate the tech sector, we must rethink the role that technology plays within these institutions.  

Good digital procurement can radically open up access to vital services, stimulate innovation in the public interest, build much-needed digital capabilities within government and create new standards for the wider tech sector to aspire to. 

Help us realise better use of technology in the public sector

We’re speaking with big tech companies, SMEs, civil servants, local government bodies, rights groups and other organisations from across the UK’s digital procurement ecosystem to understand the current challenges and opportunities they face. 

If you are interested in being involved in this work, please get in contact at [email protected]

We’ll be shaping these insights into recommendations and building a coalition of supporters to help us make responsible digital procurement a reality.