Procurement documents for the government’s Digital Services framework are being radically redesigned to reduce word counts, simplify language and make information more easily accessible.
In a blog published yesterday Warren Smith, the assistant director of the Government Digital Service’s G-Cloud and Digital Commercial Programme, said: “We know that the majority of buyers and suppliers who read the procurement documentation aren’t legal professionals so we’d like to make our contracts reflect this.”
His team has so far reduced the length of the contract text by over 40%, Smith explained, and they intend to cap the length of sentences at two lines. Contracts will begin with a summary page outlining the key facts, and relevant data – such as technical specifications and the contract’s value – will be presented in reusable, machine-readable formats that comply with the Open Contracting Data Standard schema.
Smith also wants to “host ‘boilerplate’ clauses online”, so that the standard texts common to each contract are presented on a separate web page rather than bulking out individual procurement documents. And his team are, he said, “looking at making the process less complicated by automatically filling out parts of the contract using the details defined in the Request for Proposal (RFP) stage. We’ve started developing a prototype of the RFP process that will sit within the Digital Marketplace. We’ll be looking to link this with the creation of the call-off contract, following award.”
The team is exploring the use of images in contracts, Smith said, and looking at how documents can be developed more collaboratively by buyers and suppliers. Quoting technology blogger Sol Irvine, he pointed out that both contracts and software codes are text files that “require tools that enable multiple authors to collaborate on changes without losing the document’s history… to annotate documents, and engage in in-line debate about specific changes.”
“We’d like to explore this parallel further,” Smith commented. “One possibility is to introduce digital tools and techniques. This could make it easier for contract drafters in government to collaborate on possible variations to standard clauses, in a way that’s controlled and auditable by the contract owners.”