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What is commissioning?

This page is free to all
‘Commissioning’ is a process that public sector organisations use to plan, procure, deliver and evaluate services for local residents.

The bigger picture

There is now a general trend for public bodies (such as local councils and NHS clinical commissioning groups) to move away from grant-giving to the awarding of contracts through competitive processes.

There has also been a significant trend since the 1980s for public bodies to commission rather than deliver public services in-house themselves. Providers of services can be private-sector companies, charities or social enterprises.

The ‘commissioning cycle’

Good commissioning requires commissioners to follow this commonly accepted cycle of activity:

© NCVO 2015

How can charities engage in commissioning?

It is important to be aware that charities can be – and should be – involved at all stages of the cycle:



Analyse data

Consult with existing providers

Consult with current and potential service users

Produce Joint Strategic Needs Assessment

Provide evidence and insight on community needs and existing support capacity

Enable commissioners to reach marginalised or disadvantaged residents

Gather community insight

Contribute evidence of impact – what works


Develop market of providers

  • Market development events
  • Innovation funding
  • Build capacity of providers

Attend market events

Develop consortia or other collaborative bidding vehicles

Search for contracts


Formally procure (purchase) a service from provider(s)

Respond to PQQs and ITTs

Sit on procurement panels


Monitor performance of providers

Deliver high quality services

Monitor delivery and manage internal performance

Generate evidence of impact


Gather data

Make business case to re-let contract, amend service specification or decommission

Contribute data to review

Plan for decommissioning if necessary

Prepare for next contract cycle

Finding useful data

Search online for your area’s joint strategic needs assessment

See our page on using data

Finding out about contract opportunities

Public bodies should have a publicly available commissioning strategy (most likely it will be for a specific department such as adult social care or public health). They may also have a publicly available register of forthcoming contracts that are being let or re-let.

See our page on finding contract opportunities

Contact your local voluntary sector support organisation. Commissioners often use them to disseminate useful information to the local voluntary sector. They can also advise you if there is a local voluntary-sector consortium that you could join.

Other ways services can be organised for residents

Apart from commissioning and in-house delivery, there are other models (which are not covered here), such as:

  • providing direct payments to residents to purchase their own services
  • using grants to fund service provision – NHS advocates this
  • new commissioning models such as innovation partnerships and alliance contracting.
Page last edited Sep 10, 2020

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