A Comprehensive Approach to Equitable Procurement in Government

Minnesota's efforts to bring diversity and inclusivity to its contracting and purchasing are setting the pace.
December 7, 2017
The Minnesota state Capitol (Shutterstock)
By Stephen Goldsmith  |  Contributor
Professor of practice at the Harvard Kennedy School and director of the Innovations in American Government Program

Continuous improvement in the delivery of government services requires not just new approaches from existing players but new participants as well. One way to stimulate that change in government processes is through equitability initiatives, and the work of the Minnesota Office of State Procurement to promote greater access to public procurement processes represents an innovative effort toward inclusive government.

Alice Roberts-Davis, the state's assistant commissioner for property and purchasing, and Betsy Hayes, Minnesota's chief procurement officer, are leading the state's effort to ensure that its contracting and purchasing reflect the diversity of the state's population. "All people are taxpayers and all should have the opportunity to participate in the state's supply chain," says Hayes. So the procurement team is working to give more opportunities to women, minorities, veterans and people with disabilities. Increasing the diversity of the people and businesses contracting with the state not only reaches a larger segment of citizens but also leads to new ideas that can spur resourcefulness, such as joint agreements and simplified certification forms.

Minnesota's progress in promoting equity-driven practices and leveraging the power of its business partnerships has grown through various initiatives. The team's multifaceted approach involves a new procurement initiative within the Office of State Procurement, intensive employee training and continuous-improvement goals. In 2015, the procurement team received Gov. Mark Dayton's support, and he created an Office of Equity in Procurement (OEP) and a Diversity and Inclusion Council.

Much of the work of the OEP, which is housed within the Office of State Procurement, tackles existing barriers for small businesses and those with minority owners, enabling these enterprises to more easily obtain small-business certifications, use a searchable database to find procurement opportunities, and utilize a platform to track solicitations for professional and technical-service contracts. The office also directly solicits specific community groups, with more than 60 outreach programs and other efforts tailored to reach these business owners.

The OEP also has delivered training intended to promote inclusivity to more than 750 staff across the state, teaching them how to use the tools the state has available to increase women- and minority-owned business involvement. The training exposes state employees to tips and techniques for writing more inclusive comprehensive proposals and RFPs to avoid narrowing of potential applicants. The training also includes interactive activities that simulate the frustration often felt by a small business when competing with a larger business and when working with the state government. The effectiveness of this training has caught the attention of other states and organizations, which have invited Minnesota to conduct training for their own procurement staffs.

Building upon its efforts to increase contracting opportunities, the procurement team partnered with the NAACP to evaluate its progress. Minnesota's openness to critique aids the state in achieving its performance-improvement goals, and this comprehensive approach -- using all available tools while seeing which ones are used well and which could be used differently -- has helped propel Minnesota to the top of state procurement rankings.

As this equity-based agenda increases diverse business participation, Minnesota procurement officials understand that contracting and purchasing engagements require a balancing act of cost, sustainability and impartiality between different sized businesses. The state's efforts present an evolving case study for examining the challenges and successes of equity-based practices. As operational efficiency and economic diversity continue to grow in importance, Minnesota represents a government working effectively to incorporate the benefits of both.