The NIGP Columbia Chapter Intergovernmental Cooperative Purchasing (ICP) Group

A Regional Cooperative Purchasing Case Study

The Columbia Chapter ICP Group

Increasingly, governments are working together to share the administrative costs of purchasing and aggregate buying power to save taxpayer dollars across a region. These regional purchasing collaboration efforts offer lessons to public agencies aiming to save staff time and make best use of taxpayer dollars. Here, we highlight the work of one successful regional purchasing collaboration initiative, the NIGP Columbia Chapter’s Intergovernmental Cooperative Purchasing (ICP) group.

What is the Intergovernmental Cooperative Purchasing (ICP) Group?

The Columbia Chapter of the National Institute of Government Purchasing (NIGP) is a nonprofit professional organization that brings together purchasing staff from local governments across the Portland, OR metropolitan area. In 2006, the Columbia Chapter formed the Intergovernmental Cooperative Purchasing group (ICP group) to foster collaboration in public purchasing across its members. The group has elected directors who handle the administrative responsibilities of running the group, including planning and running the bimonthly ICP meetings, identifying innovations and partners to increase the group’s efficacy, and bringing together thought-leaders and representatives from national cooperative groups to speak about trends and best practices.

The ICP group provides a forum for members to collaborate in a number of ways, including the opportunity to share contracts to save administrative costs. According to Annie Teav, one of the ICP group's former co-directors, “we [the members of ICP] recognize that there can be a huge time savings if a solicitation conducted by another public agency and a resulting contract with cooperative language is out there to utilize. If we do our due diligence to vet that a cooperative purchase meets our requirements and we believe that we can responsibly and appropriately use it, then we should do so and then use the time and effort saved on that to work on more complex purchases.”

What innovations make ICP successful?

Sharing contracts from different sources, including local agency members, with CoProcure

As a service to its members, the ICP group originally created a Google spreadsheet to track cooperative contracts relevant to its local member agencies. The spreadsheet lists contracts from the State of Oregon as well as national purchasing cooperatives. But what really makes the spreadsheet special is it provides a place for ICP members to share contracts created by their own local agencies.

One special benefit of helping local agencies in the Portland metro region to share their contracts with each other is making local suppliers, already available on local contract, more discoverable to government agencies. According to Cate Antisdel, a former co-director of the group, “local cooperatives are so useful because if Multnomah County has a contract that I can piggyback off of with a specific architect or plumber who is also a small local business and met all of the requirements of the bid, think how much time we save not having to duplicate another agency’s efforts and how much cost we’ve saved that small business owner from having to respond to multiple bids.”

The Google spreadsheet, while incredibly useful to members, had a few shortcomings. It had to be manually maintained by ICP leadership. It only provides basic data about the available contracts, but not the contracts documents themselves; members must email or call the point of contact to request the necessary documents. And finally, it is challenging to search, since search relies on “Ctl + F” across multiple tabs in a spreadsheet.

To make finding cooperative contracts even easier for its members, ICP members can now use CoProcure to search the full text of available contracts and supporting documents, right on the ICP website. Member agencies can search across contracts from local agencies, the State of Oregon and other states, and national and regional cooperatives by keyword, lead agency name, or supplier name, and review supporting documents — all in one place.

Providing a trusted peer-to-peer forum for sharing information, coordinating purchasing efforts, and learning about cooperative purchasing

In addition to maintaining a cooperative contract list, the ICP group also holds regular meetings with members and encourages purchasers to network with one another, either in person or via email, to troubleshoot a difficult purchase and share best practices. The meetings are an opportunity to not only discuss local procurement issues, but also to learn more about cooperative purchasing. “We’ve had some really great opportunities to have experts and cooperative consortium leaders come out and give their time to us,” said Teav. “Even when we are not meeting, we communicate with one another knowing we have each other to bounce ideas and experiences off of,” said Teav. “Our members really understand the value of cooperative language in their contracts and can push their agencies to ensure it is included.” In many ways, the ICP group has changed the conversation around purchasing for its local agency members across the Portland metro area.

There are 72 NIGP chapters across the country, with over 13,000 public procurement members. Among them, the Columbia Chapter stands out for its online and offline resources for procurement collaboration.