Integrated commissioning for open public services: Building a better model for the delivery of social value through diverse networks of local providers

Stephen Duckworth, Alexis Sotiropoulos, June 2012

Executive Summary


Decentralisation has been identified as an important key to unlock more productive and responsive public services. The closer the services are to service users, the more accountable they are for addressing users’ diverse and individual needs. As such, increasing the impact of public services means devolving control and providing more choice.

There are a number of challenges in creating and maintaining local choice and responsiveness. It implies a diverse spread of local small and medium enterprises (SMEs), including many from the voluntary and community sector (VCS) and newly emerging mutuals. Paradoxically, large-scale and complex public service commissioning has required an increasingly centralised state, which lacks the exibility and sensitivity to manage local networks and often produces unintended consequences.

However, the emergence of the ‘integrator’ establishes a promising model to implement decentralisation – a prism refracting central direction into a diverse array of provision. An integrator is an organisation strategically deployed by the commissioner with specific responsibility for mapping and then assembling a network of local providers to achieve agreed outcomes. Historically both central and local governments have performed this role but with a poor return on investment.

The model has evolved further with the use of prime contractors to manage large, complex infrastructure projects through a blend of self-delivery and supply chain management. The separation of roles between the commissioner, prime and provider has created greater clarity in respective roles and responsibilities but has also resulted in some blurring in the lines of accountability. The translation of prime contractors into the social sector, such as large welfare to work contracts in the UK and US, has led to a further evolution in accountability as the role of the end-user has become a more important consideration in service design.

Download the full article
On the use of the integrator model to free up commissioners to focus on long-term strategic objectives instead of on the micro-management of a supply-chain of smaller providers.

Related articles

The Structure and Future of the UK Public Services Market

The public service industry in the UK – that part of the market made up of non- government suppliers – accounts for almost 6 percent of GDP and employs some 1.2 million people. However, virtually nothing is known of the supply side of this market.
4th December 2012

Frugal Innovation: Learning from social entrepreneurs in India

Over the last 60 years, innovation and improvements in India's public services have frequently emerged in the absence of state intervention or involvement. Social enterprises have stepped in to address the challenges where the government has failed.
29th February 2012

To Guide The Human Puppet: Behavioural economics, public policy and public service contracting

Behavioural economics is the latest fashion in Westminster and Washington. The Serco Institute explores this new trend and asks what it means for public service contracting.
30th November 2010