Procurement reimagined

Procurement reimagined

The City of Guelph re-imagined a procurement process that could provide better services to citizens, while simultaneously creating more commercialization opportunities for early-stage businesses
Illustration of anthropomorphic chemistry apparatus.
Caitlin Cassie
Policy Advisor
June 1, 2017
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Public procurement – the act of government purchasing goods and services – is an incredibly powerful lever for policymakers at every level of government. A responsive procurement process enables governments to efficiently select high-quality vendors, resulting in the supply of well-run services to citizens.

Additionally, due to the large investments in public procurement that all levels of government make, government is well-positioned to become an important customer for businesses. When tailored appropriately, public procurement has the potential to be an important policy tool to support entrepreneurs and small businesses – which, in turn, is good for economic growth, development and sparking innovation.

Truthfully, Canadians are more likely to be familiar with the big procurement blunders than any recent success stories. Given the public scrutiny that results when things go awry and the government’s general aversion to risk, attempts to experiment with new processes and redesign existing protocol can quickly wane as roadblock after roadblock emerges. Existing regulations, processes, protocols are often viewed as constraints. The Guelph Civic Accelerator is a great example of what government can achieve when they are instead interpreted as an opportunity to innovate, experiment, and iterate.

What is the Guelph Civic Accelerator?

About a year ago, the City of Guelph and Guelph Lab launched the Civic Accelerator pilot project. Since that time, procurement aficionados and policy geeks have been setting their Google Alerts to carefully follow the progress of the initiative. Working within the existing regulatory context, the City reimagined how to facilitate a procurement process that could both provide better services to citizens and create more commercialization opportunities for early-stage businesses.

To do this, the Civic Accelerator team worked with City departments to identify challenges that could not be easily solved by the traditional procurement process. The Civic Accelerator Request for Proposals (RFP) then put out a call for companies, including startups, to propose potential solutions to the identified challenges. Successful companies were selected to embed within the relevant department to co-develop their solutions, working closely with City staff and mentors from Guelph’s innovation ecosystem. At the conclusion of the embed, the City had the opportunity to make a purchase, but was not required to do so.

We are pleased to release a case study on this pilot project that includes insights into how Guelph innovated its procurement process, the factors that led to success, and lessons learned. Because we just can’t resist, here are a few key learnings from the case study:

  • When experimenting with procurement, working closely with the procurement and legal teams is critical. Relationships matter, particularly when you are looking to try something new and need widespread, coordinated support.
  • If you want to attract early-stage and small businesses, design all aspects of your RFP with them in mind. Even the smallest of details matter!
  • Connecting to the local innovation ecosystem is critical to attracting early-stage businesses and entrepreneurs.
  • Co-developing a solution to a nuanced challenge requires a significant amount of data collection. This data helps governments make more informed decisions about what they need to provide to citizens, and helps businesses improve their products.


Over the last few months, new procurement experiments have started to emerge in other municipalities and jurisdictions. Thanks to a Bloomberg Philanthropies grant, the City of Toronto is building a Civic Innovation Office that will canvas City divisions for challenges. Toronto’s innovators, startups, and tech companies will then be encouraged to develop solutions in response. Kitchener’s forthcoming Civic Innovation Lab will be a place where startups, large organizations, and the City collaboratively develop and apply tech solutions for the provision of city services, such as monitoring water mains and traffic conditions. And, recently, both the Government of Ontario and Government of Canada have announced changes to their procurement programs – these programs will now target innovative, smaller and early-stage companies. This is exciting and welcome news.

The objective of our case study is to ignite new and interesting conversations and inspire further experimentation. Discussion on this topic is increasingly necessary, and we are encouraged by the excitement that the Guelph Civic Accelerator has created.

Questions? Get in touch. We’re happy to talk procurement any day of the week.

For media enquiries, please contact Nina Rafeek Dow, Marketing + Communications Specialist at the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship.