Great questions! My team has been experimenting with a number of collaborative tools as we’ve executed a major system acquisition in the Coast Guard.
We consulted with the tribe here late in 2009 to get their advice on sharing two of our key requirements documents prior demonstrations we held in March of 2010 as part of our market research. We used SlideShare as a place to share the Concept of Operations and the Operational Requirements Document. There was a bit of hand-wringing within the government team on whether it was appropriate to share the draft documents, but ultimately the program management, legal, and a contracting representatives agreed it was in the government’s interest to provide industry the early visibility into our requirements.
During the demonstrations, we used a commercial screensharing tool to allow government people to view the demonstrations and participate in the government discussion afterward without the cost and hassle of travel. We used GoToMeeting, but there are many similar tools available.
As the Acquisition plan was fleshed out and the cost estimates were completed, we realized that we needed to consider alternative strategies to divide the projects into smaller chunks that would reduce risk, cost, and time to market.
We wanted industry involvement in this re-assessment process. We needed a way to provide everyone the same information on the issues we were struggling with, and a way for them to share ideas with us.
We used a wiki hosted by GSA on their citizen.apps.gov platform to support the collaboration on the acquisition strategy.
I’ve shared some of the lessons learned from that experiment in blog posts here on GovLoop:
I described the rationale for starting the wiki here:
I shared feedback from the HCA here:
After the three months study was completed, we used SurveyMonkey to ask participants for their feedback. The complete results are available here:
Here are a few things we heard:
In response to the question “Should the government continue to use a forum like this to develop further CG-LIMS RFI’s or RFP’s has been doing recently?”
“The wiki forum seems to be much more open and if it includes historical information / brainstorming type information like it has for this wiki, I think it provides valuable insight that is usually guessed at or derived. I think this leads to solutions that are more targeted to the customers needs. One caveat though is that it doesn’t protect industry intellectual property for those that want to contribute.”
“For private sector everyone stays informed… cuts way down on guessing.”
“With the weekly blog postings and wiki ther has been no ambiguity on what the Government is intending to do. As an Integrator it allows to me to focus more clearly on what my competitive approach will be.”
Proving that you can’t please everyone, we heard both:
“In person meetings are better”
“Provides good interface with Government in lieu of face to face meetings.”
We also asked: “These survey results will be shared with focus groups implementing the “25 Point Implementation Plan to Reform Federal Information Technology Management.” Your feedback is particularly relevant to the team implementing Point 25: “Launch interactive platform for pre-RFP agency-industry collaboration.” Based on your experience with this Acquisition Strategy wiki, is there anything you would like to share with that group? Do you have any input that hasn’t been captured above?”
“The efficiency of a wiki as compared to a series of time displacing meetings for many people, is hard to imagine, until you see it happen.”
“Government needs to use wiki as a tool for shaping and informtaion gathering. Yet not be shaped by highly active, biased, contributors. Need to understand motivations of contributors. Uncertain if there is a way to gather that data or develop accountability for content updates. Would there ever be cause for protest, based on level of wiki contributions?”
We continued to use the wiki to keep industry informed as our strategy further evolved in response to an expected reduction in out-year funding.
When we began to execute the strategy, we used the wiki to manage the questions and answers that followed the release of an RFQ for COTS software on GSA eBuy. We gave industry the option of posting questions directly to the wiki or e-mailing them to the Contracting Officer. As soon as the questions arrived through e-mail, the CO posted them to the wiki. This instant visibility reduced the number of repeat questions and let the government team focus on answering the questions without the distraction of repeat questions or multiple status updates. Here’s the RFQ Q&A page: https://wiki.citizen.apps.gov/CGLIMS/index.php/Software_RFQ_Questions_and_Answers
Here are some of the challenges I see:
1. Resistance to change: Government acquisition professionals are under tremendous pressure to know and follow an increasing number of rules. It will require education to help them understand that it is okay to do things differently.
2. Solution pollution: After the pilot and experimenting phase, I think we need to settle on some small number of tools that industry and government should be expected to learn and use. Using MediaWiki has a learning curve, but if that emerges as the platform of choice for acquisition professionals, we can learn it. It seems to work for Wikipedia, as well as plenty of government communities like Intelink, MilSuite, and many others.
3. Need to share? Need to share! Many acquisition professionals I work with still believe we need to develop a complete requirement before providing visibility to industry. As a community, I don’t think we’re convinced of the imperative to engage early with industry if we’re going to meet the government’s needs in the most effective way in declining budgets.
I’d like to see us move to institutionalize collaboration with industry, especially in the pre-RFP phase of acquisition. I’d love to see the pilots and experiments like BetterBuy grow into a mature and supported way of doing business that’s used as widely as FedBizOpps.
Until then, I’ll keep an eye on what leaders in this tribe are doing, keep stealing ideas, keep pushing the envelope, and keeping sharing what I learn!
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