By Prof Albert Sanchez-Graells, Professor of Economic Law (University of Bristol Law School).
Blockchain or, more generally, decentralised ledger technologies (DLTs), are capturing the attention of policymakers. ‘Blockchain’ has become shorthand to refer to technology usually identified with the properties of a decentralised, trustless and immutable (or at least, tamper-proof) mechanism for information verification and recording that can enable self-executing digital transactions between anonymous parties (‘smart contracts’).
There are high economic stakes at play in public procurement—which represents around 12% of GDP and over a third of public expenditure in OECD countries, and even higher proportions in other economies. Coupled with the growing (over)reliance of policymakers on business consultants, the hype around blockchain—and, more generally, about public procurement 4.0—is perhaps particularly intense in this field of GovTech and RegTech.
Some legal scholars are rather optimistically jumping on the ‘disruptive technologies bandwagon’ and identifying blockchain as a main tool to increase the probity and efficiency of procurement governance at a national level.1 Some officially-backed ‘visions for the future’ go as far as promising blockchain-supported global e-procurement platforms capable of covering the entirety of procurement transactions carried out worldwide.
This is creating a set of expectations about how blockchain will revolutionise public procurement governance that does not translate into real action. Even further, I submit, blockchain is and will remain structurally inapt to generate such a governance revolution, for several reasons. (more…)
While carrying out research on the impact of digital technologies for public procurement governance, I have realised that the deployment of artificial intelligence to promote sustainability through public procurement holds some promise. There are many ways in which machine learning can contribute to enhance procurement sustainability.
For example, new analytics applied to open transport data can significantly improve procurement planning to support more sustainable urban mobility strategies, as well as the emergence of new models for the procurement of mobility as a service (MaaS).* Machine learning can also be used to improve the logistics of public sector supply chains, as well as unlock new models of public ownership of eg cars. It can also support public buyers in identifying the green or sustainable public procurement criteria that will deliver the biggest improvements measured against any chosen key performance indicator, such as CO2 footprint, as well as support the development of robust methodologies for life-cycle costing.
However, it is also evident that artificial intelligence can only be effectively deployed where the public sector has an adequate data architecture.** While advances in electronic procurement and digital contract registers are capable of generating that data architecture for the future, there is a significant problem concerning the digitalisation of information on the outcomes of past procurement exercises and the current stock of assets owned and used by the public sector. In this blog, I want to raise awareness about this gap in public sector information and to advocate for the public sector to invest in learning what it already owns as a potential major contribution to sustainability in procurement, in particular given the catalyst effect this could have for a more circular procurement economy. (more…)
Since Hardin’s publication of the Tragedy of the Commons in 1968, the perception of ‘the commons’ has been closely intertwined with food and agricultural production. As a matter of fact, Hardin was worried that common land which was openly and unrestrictedly accessible to livestock would have been quickly impoverished and eventually lost its economic potential. According to Hardin, livestock production should take place on the basis of a well-defined and individualist proprietary regime which allocates the land to all users, so that the cost of idiosyncrasy and over-exploitation is borne by those who act irresponsibly and negative externalities do not affect the amount of resource that is available to the other members of society.
Through the years, the flaws and ineffectiveness of Hardin’s theory have been uncovered. For example, David Harvey has suggested that Hardin only considers the implication of commons-owned land (the natural resource), while the crucial element is represented by the commons-ownership of the means of production. Similarly, the research conducted by Elinor Olstrom through the lenses of economics and governance led to the identification of several examples in the natural world where commons-pooled resources are maintained, reproduced and shared by members of society through the introduction of rigorous forms of governance and collective discipline. Moreover, the idea that private titling and private exploitation of resources reduce the risk of over-consumption and unsustainability has been proven wrong in numerous cases of socio-environmental disasters and by the depletion of soil produced by corporate farming. (more…)
On 4 October 2017, we held an event at the University of Bristol Law School, funded by PolicyBristol, considering the dynamics of negotiation, implementation, and enforcement of North-South trade agreements.
The first panel (Clair Gammage, Maria Garcia and Tonia Novitz, chaired by Phil Syrpis) examined the external policies of the European Union (EU) particularly in the context of regionalism and free trade agreements (FTAs). The significance of power disparities between trading partners in the negotiation process was considered and it was argued that true ‘partnerships’ in trade will be established through an inclusive and participative approach, as advocated by Clair Gammage in her book on North-South Regional Trade Agreements as Legal Regimes (Edward Elgar, 2017).
The second panel (Emily Jones, Sophie Hardefeldt and Gabriel Siles-Brügge, chaired by Tonia Novitz) examined how the UK could – in the event of Brexit – depart from or improve on the practices of the EU. Issues regarding human rights protections, development and transparency were considered, echoing many of the themes emerging from the discussion of the first panel. (more…)