INTERISE INSIGHT: "I can't find them!"

Mental Models in the Anchor Procurement System
communication-1991851 1920 Anchor institutions such as hospitals and universities know that they can generate economic impact by sourcing goods and services from local small businesses. They also know that they can generate economic opportunity by sourcing from minority-owned small businesses and small businesses located in lower income communities. Anchors generate billions of dollars in economic activity every year. So why don’t they further leverage their economic “procurement power” to create opportunities for low-income individuals and minorities?

Interise researched this question in 2016 as part of the Capacity, Capital, and Contracts (C³) initiative, and found some interesting answers. One of the answers is that mental models―deeply held beliefs and assumptions about ourselves and the world―prevent stakeholders on all sides of the anchor procurement system from further engaging each other in contracting opportunities.

For example, take the mental model, “I can’t find them!” Within anchor institutions, this mental model leads a university procurement employee to believe that if they try to source a good or service from a local disadvantaged business, they won’t find the right match. Through this mental model, anchor procurement staff think they will have a hard time finding a small business experienced enough to supply a large institution, so they turn to a larger (proven) supplier. 

Local small business owners also hold the “I can’t find them” mental model, in a slightly different way. For them, the mental model derives from hours upon hours of fruitless searching and applying for suitable contracts, which they never win. Through this mental model, business owners feel at a disadvantage – not knowing whom to talk with, or how to connect with buyers to pitch their product.

It’s important to remember that mental models can often hide the win-win opportunity of best product, best price, and inclusive economic development. Mental models can change and problems can be solved when people and organizations dedicate time and resources to realign their beliefs and assumptions. This is exactly what C³ is designed to do.

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