Fredo Schotanus on purchasing with impact and accelerating socially responsible purchasing

What kind of mind-set is needed to carry out ground-breaking research as we do at UUCePP?

UUCePP researchers introduce themselves in brief interviews conducted by Elisabetta Manunza and Fredo Schotanus. To conclude the series, Elisabetta and Fredo interview each other. Today: Fredo Schotanus.

Fredo Schotanus
Fredo Schotanus

Who’ and ‘what’ are you?

My name is Fredo Schotanus and I hold the endowed chair of Public Procurement, Utrecht University's School of Economics. Together with Elisabetta Manunza, I am one of the founders of the Utrecht University Centre for Public Procurement (UUCePP).

I live in Bilthoven and am married to Marijke. Her expertise is built around mental health prevention with a specific focus on how to make more people flourishing. Together we have two sons and we live with great pleasure in a very accessible and social neighborhood.

In the weekend, I like to run and I also mountain bike (if the weather is nice) on the beautiful trails in the Utrechtse Heuvelrug. In addition, once during the week, I’m an athletics coach for a group of Utrecht (ex-) students.

At the University of Twente I studied Industrial Engineering and Management. At the end of my studies I started to specialize in 'purchasing' inspired by Jan Telgen. After my graduation assignment at the Dutch Railways, my academic interest was also triggered and I carried out a PhD research on horizontal cooperative purchasing.

After my PhD research I worked as an assistant professor for one day a week. During this period I taught various subjects and – together with colleagues – set up the courses healthcare purchasing and sourcing. In the other days of the week I gained a lot of practical experience at Significant Synergy as a consultant. I have been involved with many tenders and organizational issues related to public procurement.

Since December 2019, I work for Utrecht University for two days a week. The other days I still work  for Significant.

What do you work on, and why?

I study effective and efficient public procurement and sustainable, innovative and social contracting and procurement in the public sector. This is also called purchasing with impact. 'Impact' is seen as a third dimension alongside 'price' and 'quality'. And when I mention impact, think of specific topics such as circularity, air and soil quality, social entrepreneurship, innovations, participation et cetera.

With the help of public procurement, a major impact can be made on our society. Every year, Dutch governments purchase for billions of euros. The way in which this is purchased can vary enormously: from purchasing on the basis of lowest price only to purchasing while taking impact into account.

The question is how this can be done effectively and efficiently in different situations. How can we make even more impact with government procurement? What are the consequences for markets? What purchasing techniques, supplier selection methods, procurement and contract management models and methods contribute substantially to purchasing with impact?

The focus of my chair is mainly on the technical and economic side of public procurement. Which is a very nice addition to the chair of Elisabetta Manunza. Her chair focuses mainly on the legal side. I am convinced that you cannot properly examine the one (the economic side) without knowledge of the other (the legal side) and vice versa. In UUCePP, we also pay attention to this in our joint publications and of course in our joint education.

What makes you get out of bed in the morning? And is this different because of the COVID-19 crisis? Is there nevertheless something you appreciate in these changing circumstances?

I'm not very good at sleeping in. So, getting out of bed didn't really change much because of COVID-19. What I do appreciate because of the changed circumstances is homeschooling the kids, no background noises in the woods, more awareness for the world around us and (much) less travel time.

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Should we go back to our old way of life after the crisis, or not?

I believe that now is the time to accelerate the focus on socially responsible purchasing. Currently, there is more attention for reflection and more awareness for the world around us. Other objectives than 'cost-related' come up more. There is also the fact that we are running behind in meeting various climate and social objectives that we have committed ourselves to as a country or government. As a very prosperous and innovative country, you could expect us to be at the forefront of achieving these goals. Not only for our contribution to society as a whole, but also because it can further strengthen Dutch entrepreneurship and innovative power. Government procurement can contribute to this by considering for each tender to include not only price and quality, but also impact.

What is your biggest dream or greatest ambition?

With my work and the way I live, I hope to contribute to a more social and sustainable world. We also pursue this goal with UUCePP: to contribute to an improvement of the utilization, regulation, promotion, social and sustainable use of public procurement.

Which book has impressed you the most, has shaped you, and would you read 100 more times? And why?
I would have called the book 'Factfullness' by Hans Rosling, but Niels Uenk was one interview ahead of me. Another book I've learned a lot from is Daniel Kahneman's "Thinking, Fast and Slow". Kahneman explains in his book why we often make misjudgments. And he's showing us how to make better decisions.

His book also has an impact on purchasing. His research shows, for example, that we as human beings can be influenced unconsciously by our environment while making decisions. We are also often inconsistent in summarizing complex information. It is important to be aware of this when, for example, we have to assess bids from suppliers or when we develop a purchasing strategy. Especially as we assess more often qualitative and complex impact related topics in public procurement.