Mary Davie

After evaluating over 100 ideas submitted on the BetterBuy platform for ways to use collaborative technology to make the acquisition process more open, collaborative and participatory, GSA launched a wiki (http://betterbuy.fas.gsa.gov) to gather feedback from the private sector and other interested parties for specific requirements. We’ve used the wiki for three requirements so far and to solicit three very different kinds of input. In each instance, we’ve posed questions and have also posted all sections of the solicitation making editing capability available to anyone. For data.gov, we wanted industry to help us define requirements and shape the solicitation. For ClearPath, we were primarily conducting market research – were there alternative solutions that we weren’t aware of and needed to explore? And for GSA’s email and collaboration tools requirement, we wanted input on the acquisition strategy.

So how does using a wiki enhance our traditional processes? What considerations must we make before using technology in this way and changing our business practices?

Traditional procurement practices are still being used (e.g., GSA Policy, FAR compliance). For example, to announce the start of the BetterBuy Project, GSA issued a Request for Information on eBuy. The traditional RFI process seeks to obtain written information, submitted individually and privately from interested parties. The Government then reviews the information and develops the acquisition (e.g., writing an acquisition plan, statement of work). This task is performed by one or a few Government employees often relying on others on the government team to review and comment. Using the wiki, we are testing out this process in the open. Think ‘crowdsourcing’ – let the best ideas from everyone percolate to the top. This process allows interested parties to provide comments, questions, and edits in “real-time” and receive feedback/answers in “real-time”.

As we started discussing using a wiki in this way for this purpose, we quickly found it’s not just the ethics officers who have concerns. In both government and industry, contracting officers, project managers, lawyers, and technical advisors had to address a series a of issues related to security, records management, privacy, access to information, user registration and authentication, roles and responsibilities as well as trying to figure out a way to get or give meaningful input in a manageable way. The industry respondents also had to figure out not only how to provide input that doesn’t expose proprietary information, doesn’t diminish competitive advantage or corporate value, but also how to control who responds and the process by which an approved response would be submitted. When a response is submitted privately, these are lesser concerns.

Now that we have some lessons learned, we seem to be getting a feel for the best way to use the wiki, we are also wanting to create a forum that enables us to stimulate more of a dialogue between government and industry during the process (which will raise new concerns), and we may look at what part of the process is better served by staying “behind closed doors.” You can get more on the government and industry perspective on this experiment at http://blog.betterbuyproject.com