The Contract Commons Project will build an online system to assist government procurement officials with negotiating and drafting technology and software agreements. The goal of Contract Commons is to make it easier for public institutions to obtain better technology and to help vendors elicit the requirements of public sector clients more effectively. Through a partnership with the Stupski Foundation, the first area of focus in the public sector will be K-12 Education.

Contract Commons in Public Education

Appropriate technology can help public education institutions serve our communities’ students. Effective contracts can improve upon the quality, reliability and performance of that technology by creating more specific and attainable goals and agreements, as well as by focusing negotiations on critical issues early, to prevent project failure during implementation.

Contract Commons will offer support for the procurement of both open and closed source software, hardware systems and technology services and support.

The public school technology procurement and contracting process faces numerous challenges:

  • Technology is purchased using contracts and agreements which are not well designed for the client agency’s needs (and are often vendor provided).
  • Procurement officials lack access to legal and technological assistance when negotiating.
  • Vendors have to comply with labyrinthine procurement rules and policies.
  • Contracts reflect an understanding of the parties’ legal obligations but not their business interests and goals. (I.e. they do not always memorialize metrics, deliverables and remedies for all parties.)
  • Contract drafting is not well integrated into procurement and business analysis procedures.
  • Legal counsel comes into the process too late in the negotiation process, if at all. Counsel often advises more on the “legality” of the contract rather than the business terms of the deal.
  • School districts and vendors alike lack good, model agreements for deploying open source technologies in schools: existing procurement and contract practices are not well suited to purchasing open source solutions.
  • Poor contracts fail to elicit the business needs and requirements, increasing costs for both government and vendor.
  • Poor contract terms can lock school districts and government agencies into unhappy arrangements that increase the costs of modifying systems, switching vendors or making needed improvements.
  • Poor contracts deprive taxpayers and citizens of the value to which they are entitled from public sector technologies.

We intend to make it easier and more cost-effective for vendors and clients to think through relevant issues, memorialize them in cogent and legal agreements and build balanced, ongoing relationships.

Contract Commons will also build a public education contracting community for procurement officials. The community will have access to various tools, including:

  • “Best of breed” technology contracts for public education
  • Annotations to those contracts provided by top legal and technology professionals
  • A searchable library of contract clauses
  • A community forum to encourage debate, discussion and collaboration among procurement officials and vendors
  • Primers on open source technology and contracts, and advice on how to integrate existing procurement practices with open solutions
  • An expert contract drafting “wizard” to walk procurement officials through the business and legal issues necessary to consider when negotiating for technology
  • A clearinghouse of vendor information, including information about vendor products and contract terms to create broader markets in public sector technology

By helping to deliver more effective contracts, Contract Commons will assist governmental agencies to procure the technology to improve government and strengthen democracy.

More Details:
Download Powerpoint from COSN Presentation, March 6, 2006.
Download Audio (MP3 Format) from COSN Presentation, March 6, 2006.

Watch New York Law School Capstone Presentation, April 6, 2006.
Download Powerpoint from New York Law School Capstone Presentation, April 6, 2006.

Article from School CIO: 14 Tips for Negotiating Software Agreements: Avoid contractual mishaps and get the biggest bang for your buck, by Sheila Riley

Purchasing software license and service agreements can be daunting for any district. Greg Lindner, director of information and technology services for the Elk Grove Unified School District in California, and Steve Midgley, program manager at the Stupski Foundation , advise taking the following steps to successfully negotiate contracts. Read the complete article here. (Free registration required)

Contract Commons is a project of the Institute for Information Law & Policy at New York Law School in collaboration with the Stupski Foundation. It is part of the OpenEDS project.

Contact Prof. Beth Simone Noveck, New York Law School, / or Steve Midgley at / for more information.

Contract Commons Team: Marcey Grigsby, Smita Gulivindala, Steve Midgley, Beth Noveck, Natalie Porto, Brian Robinson