Research and transfer network on sustainable public procurement in North Rhine-Westphalia

With estimated 50 billion Euros of annual expenditures by the public sector, the state North Rhine-Westphalia has enormous market power. Increasing requirements for sustainability in public procurement procedures have already shown some positive effects. At the same time, there is still considerable room for improvement when it comes to the consideration of social and environmental factors in tendering procedures. Our research and transfer network on sustainable public procurement in North Rhine-Westphalia focuses both on identifying relevant drivers and constraints in the field as well as potential solutions.

Project Lead:
Andreas Stamm
Maximilian Müngersdorff

Ministry of Innovation, Science and Research of North Rhine-Westphalia

Time frame:
2016 - 2017 / completed

Co-operation Partner:

Project description

Background and Goals

Public spending in the European Union (EU) accounts for roughly 20% of Europe’s GDP. Hence, the public sector has enormous power to influence market conditions. Within Germany 260-480 billion Euros are being spent on the national level annually, while North Rhine-Westphalia procures goods and services for about 50 Billion Euros every year. Public procurement can be a crucial strategic level in the realization of sustainability goals.

Recent amendments to the legal framework within the EU and Germany have already allowed sustainability criteria to be considered in public procurement procedures. At the same time, those regulations are vastly flexible in how they are applied, which results in some authorities going above base requirements while others applying only the minimum standards. The leverage effect of the public sector to promote a transformation towards sustainability is therefore significantly weakened. This situation is further complicated by the legal and administrative complexity of the purchasing process within Germany. Both the vertical diversity of the legal framework (e.g. EU, federal government, state government, and local authorities) as well as the horizontal diversity of public entities (e.g. municipalities, ministries, regional associations, schools, public enterprises) pose enormous challenges to effectively consider sustainability aspects in the tender process. Moreover, there exist large information gaps in core areas of public procurement and respective sustainability effects. Thus, missing data on the amount of public procurement hinders the identification of particularly relevant product groups. Less technical obstacles to sustainable procurement include established processes and routines in public awarding offices, as well as the scattered nature of information and advisory services.

The Research and Transfer Network on Sustainable Public Procurement in North Rhine-Westphalia aims at tackling those challenges on three fields of action: First, empirical data is currently being generated on central questions in the topic area. Second, a high practical relevance and knowledge diffusion will be achieved by engaging  in an intensive exchange with public procurement actors in North Rhine-Westphalia. Third, during the twelve month establishment phase of the network, proposals for targeting the identified research gaps will be compiled.

Field of Action 1: Empirical Data

The Research and Transfer Network aims at generating practical, transformative knowledge within the following three work packages:

Actors and networks: The field of consultancy, rule-setting and -implementing actors, as well as networks on sustainable procurement, is highly diverse and has only been marginally captured. Thus, within work package one a stocktaking of those actors and networks will be prepared.

Public procurement in North Rhine-Westphalia (system knowledge): Depending on the type of public entity and its internal administrative organisation procurement processes in North Rhine-Westphalia proceed quite different. Thus, work package two aims at compiling a comprehensive overview of those processes, as well as the drivers and constraints on the transformation towards a sustainable procurement system. Furthermore, tools that ensure sustainability in selected value chains will be captured and critically analysed.

Transformative knowledge base (target knowledge): Key information to enforce a sustainable transformation of the public procurement system are missing or nonexistent. This missing information includes: relevant product groups from a sustainability angle (including procurement volumes), trading partners in crucial value chains, and pioneers in the field of sustainable procurement. Work package three consists of assimilating information on these missing fields of data. Additionally, research questions and topics for future projects will be developed.

Field of Action 2: Stakeholder Dialogue and Knowledge Diffusion

In accordance with our transformative research agenda, an intensive dialogue with practitioners to identify and process research gaps represents the second field of action of our network. A further aspect of this action consists of developing approaches for a more effective diffusion of relevant knowledge on the ground.

Elements of the stakeholder dialogue include participative workshops, interviews on crucial research topics of the network, and close cooperation with practitioners when it comes to data acquisition and analysis. In addition, we aim at processing our research results in a comprehensive and implementation styled manner to ensure effective knowledge diffusion and reproducibility. When it comes to our future research agenda, we also plan to actively involve practitioners in its development process.

Field of Action 3: New Project Topics

Aside from generating the initial empirical results, our network aims at identifying innovative research questions and topics. On this basis, new projects with different actor constellations will be advanced. In line with our transfer-oriented approach, we would like to integrate both academic actors as well as practitioners in those future projects. Thus, cooperation with municipalities, companies, and civil society organizations are just as important as conventional academic projects with research institutions. Concerning both the topical and the geographical focus, we would like to extend the scope of future projects beyond North Rhine-Westphalia. Alongside European policy-comparisons, a stronger focus on procurement systems in emerging and developing countries would be content options. Furthermore, we would like to continue working on the identification of particularly relevant product groups in terms of sustainable procurement as well as on the analyses of respective value chains.



Project Coordination

Sonja Packschies



Current Publications