Competitive Dialogue Procurement (UK)
- 1 What is Competitive Dialogue?
- 2 Who Uses Competitive Dialogue?
- 3 Advantages of Competitive Dialogue
- 4 Disadvantages of Competitive Dialogue
- 5 Alternatives to Competitive Dialogue
- 6 Conclusions regarding Competitive Dialogue
What is Competitive Dialogue?
Competitive Dialogue (CD) is a method of engaging more than one potential delivery body in a tender process where a prescriptive set of detailed designs and requirements do not exist at the outset of the process, but broader performance requirements have been be defined. In essence, the CD process therefore challenges the competing delivery bodies by defining the problem and asking for their proposed solution, rather than determining the solution and asking delivery bodies to adopt this. The CD process does not (typically) allow for cross-pollination of ideas between delivery bodies, but the process will give access to the procuring body (and relevant third parties) for a defined period during which each delivery body can discuss and develop their concepts. Once the dialogue stage has completed, each delivery body’s proposal is reviewed and a preferred option selected to proceed to full detailed development and delivery. In its most common form, Competitive Dialogue will engage with several Main Contractors early in the procurement process, each of whom would normally have relevant supporting consultants sub-contracted into their team. The procuring body would define the broad requirements and each of the Main Contractor teams will then engage with the procuring body to develop their own design ideas. After a fixed period of time and (preferably) an equal opportunity to engage with the procurer, the Main Contractor teams would propose their solutions, normally including costs, programme and concept designs and any necessary variations to the brief.
Who Uses Competitive Dialogue?
In the UK, Competitive Dialogue is increasingly common in public and pseudo-public sector procurement, and therefore for construction work largely related to education, health, social housing, justice and in some instances defence. For the majority of cases, CD would be used for contracts of medium to large values rather than small construction works. In these instances, Pre-Qualification Questionnaires (PQQs) will normally have been used to provide a shortlist of Main Contractors. These will then be invited to the CD process and the preferred scheme overall will then be awarded the contract for the delivery.
Advantages of Competitive Dialogue
Competitive Dialogue is, in essence, a design competition, but augmented with greater certainty around ‘buildability’, cost and programme. CDs primary strength is therefore to seek out innovative solutions to the problem which has been defined, but without inviting unrealistic concepts which cannot be successfully translated into a completed scheme. Through the process, CD also provides cost, programme and delivery information around the proposed concept as part of the final submission. The primary advantage is therefore the opportunity for better solutions to be proposed than may have been conceived by the procuring body in the first instance. This can be particularly relevant when seeking innovative solutions for the delivery of Nearly Zero Energy Buildings, where competing suggestions may evolve from different bidders. The procurer can then choose the solution that they believe is most favourable.
Disadvantages of Competitive Dialogue
Competitive Dialogue requires several Main Contractors to compile a team internally and externally to work through discussions with the procurer towards their own proposed solution to the brief. It is uncommon for this work to be undertaken under an honorarium or other reimbursement, hence the Main Contractor and consultants will work speculatively and for no ultimate payment if they are not the selected bidder. This places a cost burden on the industry which can only be recovered in higher fees to procurers on the occasions that the teams are successful. CD also intrinsically favours larger consultant and (to a lesser relevance) larger Main Contractors, as involvement in the process requires the financial capacity to pay staff time and effort for the process in the hope of recovering costs in future from a sufficient number of successful bids. When implemented correctly, the Competitive Dialogue approach also suffers from the inability to transfer ideas between proposals; since construction schemes are invariably complex solutions, it is therefore likely that each proposal will have one or more strong ideas in certain areas, but be weaker in others: The CD process can be assumed to select the strongest overall proposal, but not the composite of the strongest elements from all proposals. In practice, this disadvantage is sometimes mitigated by informal suggestions during the dialogue period and after the award to the winning Main Contractor, although this potentially breaches Intellectual Copyright for the designs and, at minimum, could be considered morally questionable.
Alternatives to Competitive Dialogue
Procurement processes in the UK and beyond have presented innumerable routes to deliver construction work over the centuries, hence only those most relevant and in active use have been noted below:
An architectural design competition is comparatively rare in the UK, and commonly results of competitions require further development to form fully deliverable and cost effective proposals (in the UK at least, potentially a reflection on the technical competency of the architectural profession). Competition does, however, provide for a comparatively low cost burden on the industry as a whole whilst maximising the potential for innovative solutions to be presented.
Design & Build
This procurement can be used with early engagement with a Main Contractor, or with an initial design team employed directly who are ‘novated’ (legally transferred) to the Main Contractor at a later stage, and represents the most common contract format in the UK. Design & Build (or variations such as Design, Build & Maintain etc.), provides a high degree of cost and time certainty, but commonly at the detriment of quality and innovation.
A collaborative design approach typically involves early engagement of a single design and construction team (it can include only the design team, but Main Contractor involvement is common), who will have been selected via a traditional PQQ and/or interview process or potentially some form of limited scope competition. This team are then challenged to work with the procurer/Client to develop the solution to the brief, and as part of this commonly to ensure a deliverable proposal. Collaborative Design does not preclude adopting a Design & Build contractual approach once the design is sufficiently mature, which is a common method for ensuring certainty around delivery and price.
An integrated design approach is an emerging development of collaborative design, championed by research undertaken across much of Europe. The Integrated Design (ID) approach supplements collaborative design by requiring the selected design team to produce more than one design solution to the brief, and to follow an iterative process of development from these multiple starting points towards the optimum design solution.
Conclusions regarding Competitive Dialogue
It could be argued that CD is the UK’s attempt to incorporate design competitions (rare in the UK but common in Europe) into a procurement process which favours ‘Design and Build’ contract formats and their associated certainty on price and programme. CD does achieve some of the innovation benefits that design competitions can bring, and typically does so without the disadvantages of unrealistic concepts, costs and timescales that can afflict ‘pure’ design competitions. However, CD achieves this at the cost of a significant burden on the industry which must, ultimately, inflate construction costs and places a barrier for smaller consultant and contractor organisations that are typically seen as the most likely to innovate. Competitive Dialogue has many similarities to Integrated Design, but without the requirement to appoint a design team and Main Contractor before significant design work is commenced. This gives CD an advantage over ID for an inexperienced or cautious procurer, as the output of the CD process is specifically relevant to the individual tender and provides a clear basis for awarding the contract that is difficult to challenge. In this regard, ID’s challenge is in appointing an appropriate design team and Main Contractor at an early stage of the procurement (and defending that decision against challenge if required). Subsequently, however, correctly delivered ID provides great opportunity for challenging the client brief, developing multiple concept schemes that can cross pollinate ideas between them, and creating innovative solutions that are practically deliverable.
RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) have published a document comparing procurement regulations and practices of the UK, Germany and Sweden. The document is available here.