What is commissioning?

When we say commissioning, we don’t always mean buying a new service, but what it might be is looking at a number of different options to fill the demand that might come along with these new duties.

Co-production workshop participant

‘Commissioning’ is a broad concept with competing definitions. For our purposes, it represents a systematic approach to planning and resourcing public services. The aim of all social care commissioning activity by local authorities is to achieve the best possible outcomes for the community as a whole and for individuals who require care and support.

This includes people who may need care and support at some time in the future. Commissioning should ensure that there are personalised approaches to meeting people's needs, in all services and settings. It must also achieve best value and comply with legislation.

A useful definition is provided in the coalition government’s ‘Modernising commissioning’ Green Paper:

The cycle of assessing the needs of people in an area, designing and then achieving appropriate outcomes. The service may be delivered by the public, private or civil society sectors.

‘Commissioning for better outcomes’ defines commissioning as:

A dynamic process to design, specify and procure services to deliver personalised outcomes that build on personal, social and community assets, and enhance capability, independence and promote equality, co-produced with social care users and their carers in a strategic partnership with health and housing organisations and in collaboration with providers.

The Care Act presents local authorities with a number of challenges in relation to commissioning advocacy services, not least ensuring there is enough provision to meet current and future demand, along with making sure that advocacy services can be aligned and developed with other ongoing developments in assessment and review.

While there are many models of commissioning and purchasing available, they all fundamentally break down into four key areas (illustrated below):

Importantly, commissioning and procurement are closely linked and the commissioning activities highlighted in the outer circle below must inform the ongoing development of procurement activities (as illustrated in the inner circle).

Chart showing commissioning lifecycle of plan, do, review and analyse

Each set of activities are grouped against the four elements of the commissioning cycle and are equally important, and these must be equitable and transparent – offering opportunities for all stakeholders to influence the types of service provided.


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