The Bike Hangar Beta Project threw up a new question for us. Often an item would be too complex to make, and so the easiest option is to use a product developed by a commercial company…ie a proprietary product, a specific brand. But that can kick up a whole bunch of complication around public procurement and transparency which may actually help no-one.
So here’s some very initial thoughts, and we’d love to hear your suggestions or experiences in the comments below. As always, none of this is set in stone and it’ll evolve as it goes! This is simply a discussion piece to start a debate.
Only use the minimum amount required for your initial trial. For example to trial residents bicycle parking, 1 bike hangar is probably sufficient for an initial trial (and debate about what street space can be used for) – 5 or 10 hangars would be surplus, but would likely be perfect for a second – and expanded – iteration of the project.
This is the steps which should be considered when a physical prototype or product is needed:
- There may be some circumstances in which borrowing an item for free – eg from another organisation or perhaps a supportive citizen – would be acceptable.
- Consider whether a low-spec product is sufficient for the purposes of the trial. (Eg a domestic bicycle foot pump might be sufficient for a 2-4 week trial, whereas usually the Council might expect to buy a pump with a 10 year lifespan and associated cost. The domestic pump might cost €40, the commercial one something like €800. That cost would need to be weighted against length of trial, expected number of trial iterations, whether it would be useful to have a ‘DCC-owned one’ for possible future use, etc.)
- Generally agree a return+refund policy in advance. (Eg 50% cash-back if return a product in reasonable nick.)
- The Traffic Light Box Artworks Beta Project went to step 3 – as steps 1-2 didn’t make sense.
- The Bike Hangar Beta Project jumped to step 4, as 1-3 weren’t suitable.
What to do when a product which is no longer needed
If an item is no longer required after a trial, these steps in this order should be useful:
- Consider whether the item could (and importantly should) be used somewhere else.
- Eg at a DCC office, or in a Dublin neighbourhood.
- Use the pre-agreed return+refund policy. (For example, we agreed a 50% refund policy with Cyclehoop for that Bike Hangar Beta Project.)
- Sell the item.
- Donate the item to a charity or ‘civic organisation’.
- Pay for, rather than getting a ‘free trial’ from commercial companies.
- To ensure that Dublin City Council never feel ‘beholden’ at any stage to any company.
- Be transparent about how much was paid for an item.
- Though perhaps not initially…it would depend on whether revealing what something cost would affect people’s perception of a trial. People generally are very surprised by how much items cost – because the Council generally needs to buy high-spec, very robust, items – and these tend to have very different prices to what people have generally experienced in their daily lives. (See the above example of the €40 versus €800 bicycle foot pump…the domestic version might cost €40 per month, the commercial one €6 per month over its 10 year lifespan…even before factoring in maintenance costs to the Council or downtime for citizens.)
- Choices between products – eg between bicycle hangar X and bicycle hangar Y – will be based on personal ‘expert opinions’ or ‘expert hunches’.
- Dublin City Council staff will be making that decision based on their personal opinions (which are usually then tested) as to what assumptions need to be tested and what debate Dublin needs to have…and which is the better product solely for those purposes (ie for learning). It will be based on instinct, and hopefully citizens will trust us to make that choice.
- Sometimes…often…this may simply be “they suggested it first and we’ve been talking to them for a few months”. It’ll be as simple as that. As always, the trial doesn’t have any implications for what is done afterwards – formal and ‘standard’ process will kick in.
- Once the debate has moved on from policy (“should people be allowed to have bike hangars on the street?”) to product (“which bike hangar would be best for Dublin?”) then perhaps a whole series of trials would be the solution (eg hangars X, Y and Z from 3 companies are all trialled in parallel and both DCC staff and citizens give their feedback…which in turn generates the brief for a public tender)…or perhaps we’ll know enough to simply go to tender if required.
- Public procurement rules apply (for example under €X only one written quote is required, above €Y a public tender is required, etc), but whenever required they should be stretched to the maximum in the interest of expediency. (Note we’re only talking Beta Projects here!)
- They don’t make huge sense for Beta Projects…It would be nonsense to spend lots of DCC time tendering for something when you don’t know if it’s even a good idea for the city. A tender implies that you know what you’re asking for…so that you can ask suppliers to provide that. In trials you don’t know that. So formal tenders are really for the next stage…once something has been formalised and is being scaled.
- It often is not in the interest of companies to spend lots of time preparing multi-party tenders…in particular for the very small amounts that Beta Projects will require (eg 1 of a particular item).
- Dublin City Council beta runs on a shoestring of a budget and practically a skeleton crew. It’s aim is to create a better Dublin and wasted time spent on tenders will mean fewer Beta Projects being run overall. There’s a need to very much prioritise what staff time is used for.
- When buying a very low number of an item (often 1!), any small savings gained from going out to tender (assuming you know what you’re looking for as noted above) will probably be outweighed by the cost of the staff time required to manage the tender.
As always, your thoughts or suggestions below would be fantastic!