In principle, testing new commissioning models rigorously before full roll out offers many benefits: methods of implementation can be investigated, contract designs can be perfected, and costly mistakes can be minimised. Yet there is a lack of advice which civil servants can draw upon to help them design tests of new commissioning models effectively. This guide starts to address this gap by capturing the growing body of experience within government and providing practical advice to help civil servants and commissioners learn about new commissioning models. 

It does so by:  

  1. Developing a framework of political and practical challenges that need to be explored and addressed when testing new market mechanisms and commissioning models
  2. Outlining different ways of testing publically funded market models, their strengths and weaknesses, and the stages at which they might be used in the testing process
  1. Capturing how civil servants are adapting the ways they work in order to test and develop publically funded markets more effectively

Our guide suggests that tests of new commissioning models need to expose and address both political and practical challenges of implementing new market-based models. To do so, ‘market makers’ should use a wide range of methods to test new commissioning models. An escalated approach – whereby cheaper ‘light-touch’ appraisal methods are used to flush out issues that are then investigated with more rigorous tests – can be helpful here. It is also important to use a range of methods which allow both ‘quick-feedback’ on the short-term impact of new commissioning models and more rigorous, long-term evaluation.  

The guide also suggests that market makers need to embrace radically new ways of working. Testing and implementing new commissioning models requires a far higher level of cooperation across departmental functions. Policymakers must work closely with political staff, operational managers, commissioners, procurers and legal, financial and IT professionals – often in mixed teams. Some of the most thorough market tests have involved heavy engagement with the provider community, service users, other government departments and local government. Openness to wider experience appears to be essential for success.