Flipped procurement gives city easy access to innovative solutions
Pitch Long Beach! gives vendors a process for proposing new approaches to civic challenges and city managers a way to quickly learn about emerging technologies that can meet local priorities.
Vendors with ideas that could benefit Long Beach, Calif., can now pitch them directly to the city through an online portal.
Pitch Long Beach! launched in February as a twist on the typical contracting relationship in which agencies issue a request for proposals to the vendor community based on a problem they’ve identified and scoped out.
“The problem that we were solving is that often technology companies and vendors – even nonprofits and community organizations – they have really great ideas for partnerships with the city while providing us with solutions, but there’s not an outlet for them to share their ideas with us,” said Ryan Kurtzman, the city’s smart cities program manager.
Interested vendors submit a pitch through the city’s Idea Form, which asks them to answer about 25 questions, including contact information but also specific questions about their proposal, such as what city resources it would require and how it aligns with Long Beach’s four smart city guiding principles -- design for equity, earn public trust, cultivate local expertise and build civic resilience – that are part of the overall smart city strategy that City Council adopted a year ago.
“We definitely wanted to keep it as open as possible, but at the same time ask for enough detail from the pitches where we could make a solid judgment about whether to proceed with an idea instead of having to take several meetings to learn about it and take sales calls and demos,” Kurtzman said.
Another question asks applicants to show how their pitch aligns with one of the city’s eight priority areas: pandemic recovery, climate action, City Hall accessibility, improving transportation and mobility, closing the digital divide, improving efficiency of city services, reducing homelessness, and ending systemic racism and reducing racial wealth gap.
After a company pitches their idea, the smart city office within the Technology and Innovation Department screens it to make sure the pitch is complete and meets the guiding principles and citywide priorities. From there, it goes to a subject-matter expert in the department related to the submission. For instance, if the idea is for a real-time parking monitoring app, the pitch will go to the parking team at the Public Works Department.
“The idea there is to assess the department’s interest and capacity to move forward with the pitch,” Kurtzman said. If it’s interested and has the resources – time, money and staff – to pursue the idea, then a fuller committee reviews it and can issue an Expression of Interest (EOI), determines whether additional organizations would be interested in the opportunity to provide a similar solution to the challenge identified in the initial pitch.
Issuing an EOI ensures that the city’s procurements are both open and competitive and that it can identify the best partner for any one solution, Kurtzman explained. “If the EOI yields no additional responses, then we can proceed with a pilot project with the initial pitch submitted,” he said. “If the EOI yields more than one response, then the city may choose to issue a more formal RFP or challenge-based RFP to competitively award the contract.”
A pitch or an EOI do not guarantee a project, Kurtzman added. Procurement rules and regulations still apply, including the requirement that processes be open and competitive. “We have to see what other solutions are out there,” he said. “We can’t just award a contract because the company reached out first.”
If a pitch is declined, the city will provide constructive feedback so that the companies will feel comfortable making future pitches, Kurtzman said. To help firms formulate the most compelling pitches possible, the city will host a webinar series for local businesses on crafting pitches.
So far, the department has received 15 pitches on topics ranging from health and transportation services to helping small businesses. They are in the evaluation phase now. Kurtzman said it is too soon to say how long evaluations will take on average, but the plan is to collect metrics and adjust accordingly.
Benefits of Pitch Long Beach! include increasing transparency and equity. The department plans to publicly publish an online dashboards of all the pitches received – minus any personally identifiable information – so that everyone can see where they are in the process.
“The idea is really to prioritize transparency and accountability so we’re held accountable to getting back to vendors in a reasonable time,” Kurtzman said.
It also helps the city’s goals of working with small and veteran- and woman-owned businesses. “We actually hired a Harvard Performance Government Lab fellow last year whose job is to specifically help with procurement equity,” Kurtzman said.
The only other setup in which vendors can pitch government entities is Los Angeles Metro’s Unsolicited Proposals and Private-Public Partnerships, he added. It’s been in place since 2015 and has received more than 250 proposals that have led to 20 projects and eight proofs of concept.
“This is a pretty novel concept for a city,” Kurtzman said.
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.
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