In March, the UK government brought in measures to control the spread of COVID-19, with a complete lockdown stopping a large amount of research in its tracks, particularly where it involved face-to-face research.  

The resulting delays to research commissions – from initial discussions with potential providers, right through the procurement process and up to award of contracts – has created uncertainty in the market and will have a continued impact on the continuity of research-related projects. The implications of this can be far-reaching, both in terms of the continuity and quality of data for ongoing programmes, and for the financial health of the research industry as a whole.

Now, as the restrictions are gradually lifted, we want to look forward, and talk about some of the ways in which you might begin to commission new research programmes, in a way that supports the wider industry as it navigates its way out of a post-pandemic slump.

When setting up new research agreements, think about how you might be able to structure the payment mechanisms more sustainably.  Consider if there are ways to reduce the barriers to suppliers bidding for new research commissions – often research projects require the supplier to bear the cost of setting everything up, and carrying out the initial work before raising any invoices.  If the pandemic situation has caused research providers to dip into their cash reserves, they may not be able to fund this – so consider how you could reduce the up-front costs for providers, or perhaps bring in earlier staged payments. 

While central government organisations are usually prohibited from paying in advance of need without Treasury consent, PPN 04/20 has made some provisions for this to secure continuity of supply of critical services in the medium and long term (until the end of October 2020). If you choose to go down this route, you should make sure that appropriate and proportionate due diligence is undertaken to ensure such payments are necessary for continuity of supply of critical services.

When you are developing your procurement documentation for a new requirement, carefully consider the relative weightings you have placed on price and quality elements of your evaluation.  

In a market where a lot of work has paused or stopped, a heavy focus on price rather than quality may push suppliers to offer unsustainable prices in order to fill their order book again.  This creates a risk that the supplier could cut corners to reduce costs, or simply run out of money.  Both of these situations would ultimately impact the quality and outcomes of the research. 

We’re here for you

Hopefully this has given you some helpful tips on how to commission new research in a way that supports the overall sustainability of the research market. 

Remember that the Research & Insights category experts at Crown Commercial Service are here to help you meet your research objectives in a more sustainable way, during a very challenging period for the wider market. 

Get in touch with us via email.