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How to understand commissioning

The easiest way to understand commissioning is always to think upon it as a decision making process. You need to understand what your problem is and then work out and put in place the best way address it within your available resources. This is the role of a commissioner - often a specific job within a statutory commissioning body. 
The commissioning process works in five steps. They aren't always clearly distinguished from one another, and commissioners may carry them out over different time periods.
These steps are:

Needs and policy analysis

First, you must know what problem you are trying to address, and what is causing this issue to arise. This will also be led by current Government policy which explains key issues or populations to address.


Market development

Commissioners need to engage and develop potential providers who will be able to tackle the problem. This also involves working closely with voluntary and community organisations (VCOs) who may not deliver public services, but are experts in the issue (say, Alzheimer's Society or small community groups). Market development might include direct grant funding and support to an organisation to develop, or funding infrastructure, networks and training for potential providers to develop.

All this requires good understanding of the market's structures, strengths and weaknesses, so skills and capacity can be best utilised. This includes engaging with small community groups and user-led organisations (ULOs) to help design the outcomes and structures of services.



Procurement is the process of identifying and securing a solution by buying services (through a contract or a grant funding relationship) to address the needs you have identified, from the market that is developed. Procurement is governed by specific laws that seek to ensure probity and fair competition between all providers - including the VCS.


Service delivery, contract management, and payment

Once the contract has been signed, the service must then be delivered, managed, and paid for by the chosen provider organisation.


Evaluation and decommissioning

Ideally, a good service will have addressed the needs you are dealing with - although other factors also hugely influence the needs public services address. Evaluation then of how the service has impacted is essential to beginning the process of needs analysis again. And commissioners must work through any necessary process of decommissioning services (ending services) which are no longer needed or most effective.

Further information

In this way, commissioning is a cyclical process, looping round and round, always checking and changing services and resources and the market to meet new and changing needs.


Page last edited Sep 15, 2014 History

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