Commissioning The Basics

Commissioning is the process of deciding what public services are needed and how best to use the resources available to get the best for local people.


Commissioning is not only about public agencies buying new services by using contracts and grants; it is also about exploring new ways for those public agencies and the service providers to achieve better outcomes.

Over the years Councils, and other purchasers of goods and services like the NHS, have moved from awarding grants to more formal service level agreements and contracts when agreeing with Third Sector organisations to deliver a service.

More recently this process has become more structured as a result of tighter regulation. There is a need to be clearer about what exactly is being purchased and delivered, what the benefits and impacts are, and to see if better value for money can be achieved. The current economic climate means that all aspects of service delivery paid for from public funds are under pressure to deliver the best possible benefits with the resources available.

Procurement and contracts form only one part of commissioning.

What Commissioning involves

Commissioning is a process that when carried out properly, involves all of the following elements.

  • Gathering information and determining what the needs of communities and service users are.
  • Getting groups of experts from the various agencies together (including the local authorities, NHS etc. and service providers from the Third Sector), as well as service users and communities, to design the best services possible with the resources available.
  • Having a fair and open process for purchasing services (the procurement and contracting bit), where this is the approach adopted .
  • Managing service delivery and contracts, learning from the delivery phase, and feeding that back into the design for the next time.

The Commissioning Cycle

The best way of thinking about Commissioning is to think of it as a cycle involving four stages. You can get the idea from the table below

Joint needs assessment

  • Needs analysis
  • Priorities
  • Planning

Delivery Planning

  • Specifications
  • Social Value
  • Resource Identification
  • Supplier Development
  • Providers and commissioners

Performance Management

  • Specifications
  • Social Value
  • Resource Identification
  • Supplier Development
  • Providers and commissioners


  • Options Analysis
  • Possible Competition
  • Value for Money
  • Best Value
  • Contract Award

The sequence runs from Joint Needs Assessment to Delivery Planning to Procurement to Performance Management. Commissioning is often thought to mean the same as procurement but it is - as you can see - far wider than that.

Commissioning in Leeds

For more detail on how the Commissioning Cycle works in practice locally visit Commissioning in Leeds