Government commissioning of social research

This empirical study explored the ways that social research is currently commissioned by national statutory bodies. Its main aims were to:

  • examine the ways that current procurement procedures for social research facilitate or constrain the development of constructive relationships between commissioners and suppliers; and 
  • explore the ways that different procurement procedures are perceived to affect the choice of researchers, the research methods used and the quality of the final outputs.

What are the main types of procurement?

The three main types of procurement method used for project-based commissioning within central government and agencies are:

  • OJEU frameworks, which require mini-competitions between lots;
  • non-OJEU frameworks, where social research is classified as research and development and single tender selection is allowed; and
  • project based procurement using open competition. Most frameworks are open for use by other public sector bodies.


  • Any of the main procurement methods can be used successfully provided that best practice is utilised. The choice depends on an assessment of the pros and cons of each method. However, each method is open to bad practice which can reduce research quality and place an unnecessary burden on both commissioner and supplier. 
  • Overall, the research does not indicate that the procurement method substantially affects the client/ supplier relationship which many suppliers perceive as starting once the contract is awarded. However, a minority opinion is that the DWP single tender route does encourage better relationships.
  • While the OJEU framework and open competition methods are perceived to be transparent, there is a perception amongst some suppliers that the DWP selection may be unfair. More transparency will help dispel this view.
  • Although GSR guidance is available to encourage good practice amongst commissioners, it is not always adhered to. This may be because not all researchers are aware of it or because they are not compelled to follow its recommendations.
  • The current pre-tender clarification procedures should be re-visited as they are currently failing to provide suppliers with the level of advice required and expected.
  • Commissioning bodies should be encouraged to provide full and timely feedback.
  • Consideration should be given to setting up a centralised database covering supplier information which all commissioning bodies need within the procurement process.
  • Greater efforts should be made to encourage inclusion of SMEs who are currently disadvantaged by the procurement processes.
Project details



Commissioned by the Social Research Association and undertaken by Carol Goldstone Associates

Grant amount