The Commissioning Academy

How public sector senior commissioners can apply for professional development opportunities through the new academy.


We need to improve public service commissioning to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of government. This means improving the skills of public sector leaders so their teams can design service provision, influence external parties, and shape and manage markets to get the best outcomes. They need practical skill and judgement, access to the latest thinking as well as the confidence and courage to deliver radical changes.

The Cabinet Office and its partners developed the Commissioning Academy as a unique development programme for senior leaders from all parts of the public sector. It is designed to equip a small group of professionals to tackle the challenges facing public services, take up new opportunities and commission the right outcomes for their communities.

From April 2016, the Commissioning Academy will be delivered by the Public Service Transformation Academy, a not-for-profit social enterprise, led by public service consultants RedQuadrant, the Whitehall and Industry Group charity and other leaders in commissioning with specialist know-how, who are well-placed to design and deliver exceptional leadership programmes and are committed to the aims of transforming the public sector.

What is commissioning?

Commissioning is essentially the effective design and delivery of policy, solutions or services. The best commissioners have the confidence to challenge the status quo, take on radical change, collaborate effectively with external stakeholders, gain a deep understanding of the need and target resources effectively to meet those needs.

Who should apply?

Anyone who is involved in defining policy, shaping public service delivery or deciding how to use the limited resources available to deliver services to citizens to get the best outcome.

Even if you don’t see yourself as a commissioner, you may be a good candidate for the academy. Previous participants include strategy and research leads, senior policy advisers, heads of change delivery, organisational development managers, chief inspectors, clinical executive directors, directors of resources and many others.

The academy is open to all public sector commissioning organisations including central government departments, local authorities, health bodies and justice organisations.

Here is a set of case studies that provide examples of commissioning practice to inspire and help other commissioners in improving public services.

There are examples from Commissioning Academy participants and others from the Public Service Transformation Network and from the Department of Communities and Local Government’s Our Place and Delivering Differently programmes.

See what attendees think about the academy in this video.

Follow us on Twitter: @CommissioningAc

About the Commissioning Academy

The Commissioning Academy is run at venues across the UK. The programme consists of master classes, workshops, guest speakers, site visits and peer challenge.

The Commissioning Academy programme uses practical, peer-led learning, covering key commissioning issues such as:

  • outcome-based commissioning
  • whole-systems thinking, bringing all facets of public services together to deal with issues
  • working with the voluntary and community sector
  • behavioural insights
  • market engagement and development
  • alternative funding models, such as social impact bonds
  • joint commissioning across organisational boundaries
  • new models of delivery — such as mutual and joint venture companies

What the programme provides

The programme includes 5 days during which participants explore commissioning practices with a range of expert speakers, through case studies and discussion. It concentrates on peer-led learning, debate and practical implementation.

Each participant is a part of a mixed sector cohort of up to 30 people. The cohorts are designed to provide as much diversity as possible to maximise learning from experiences across central and local government and other public sector organisations.

The academy aims to bring together commissioners from a variety of organisations, sectors and services areas as cohort groups.

Sectors include:

  • central government (for example, the Work Programme)
  • local government
  • justice sector bodies (such as the Police and Crime Commissioners’ offices)
  • health bodies
  • ‘place-based’ groups (where local authorities, health bodies and others are working together in one area)

The programme is designed and delivered by the Cabinet Office and a mix of delivery partners providing specialist know-how and sector and commissioning expertise.

The Commissioning Academy brochure provides more details about the programme and what participants should expect to gain from it.

Costs and how to apply

The main cost to participants is the commitment of their time to attend the whole programme.

Organisations will need to cover:

  • a contribution of £2,000 per participant to the costs of the programme
  • travel and expenses

Apply to join the academy

Participants usually join the academy as part of a small group from each organisation with at least one person at director or assistant director level (local government), director or deputy director level (central government) or equivalent, accompanied by two to four colleagues. This will enable them to learn together and work as a team to apply their new thinking to their organisation’s commissioning practice. We will consider individual applications in exceptional cases.

Candidate organisations should be leading innovation in commissioning services for the public by challenging existing delivery models. Each cohort will have a mix of different sector groups, covering cross-cutting themes.

People applying should be making changes in commissioning outcomes, leading culture change and learning from others. They will make good use of the support available to them and be willing to commit the time.

Applications must be supported by a senior sponsor such as the council chief executive or civil service director general.

Results and impact

Each participating organisation will implement a 100-day plan, developed during the programme, to improve commissioning practice.

All participants will also join an alumni network, giving them access to a supportive group of peers who will share experience and help each other deal with new challenges.

Participants and alumni are already sharing commissioning models and methodologies. Organisations are identifying opportunities to work better across boundaries with peers in their cohort and discussing proposals for joining up central and local government. The network of contacts is building and participants are using and adapting materials to share with colleagues and to develop their own staff.

Feedback from participants

Feedback already received from participants has included positive comments on the:

  • enthusiasm and honesty of the speakers
  • unique opportunity to hear theory alongside practical examples
  • wealth of experience, issues and challenges that those involved bring
  • most up to date thinking from government departments
  • value of real-life examples and the chance to have more in-depth conversations with providers
  • usefulness of seeing commissioning from the leadership, commissioner and provider perspective

Further support for commissioners

Commissioners increasingly work across traditional boundaries and may need access to information from sectors other than their own. In addition to the Framework document, a number of sectors provide information for commissioning in their area.

The Cabinet Office

The Cabinet Office has published guidance on how to start a public service mutual.

The local government sector

Knowledge Hub is the Local Government Association’s professional social network. It helps people in local government to connect and share online in a secure environment.

Participating organisations

Pilot 1:

  • Cheshire West and Chester (a place-based group)
  • National Offender Management Service / Ministry of Justice
  • Staffordshire County Council
  • Surrey County Council
  • Waverley Borough Council
  • Essex County Council
  • Cabinet Office
  • London Borough of Barnet

Pilot 2:

  • Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council
  • Bradford Metropolitan Borough Council
  • DWP, The Work Programme
  • Norfolk County Council and NHS Norfolk
  • Leicestershire County Council and NHS Leicestershire
  • Cabinet Office
  • Birmingham City Council
  • South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner’s Office
  • Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner’s Office

Wave 1:

  • Ashford (and area) Clinical Commissioning Groups
  • Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioners
  • Bristol Clinical Commissioning Group and Bristol City Council
  • Department for Communities and Local Government
  • Foreign and Commonwealth Office
  • Gloucestershire County Council
  • Home Office
  • Horsham District Council
  • Humberside Fire and Rescue
  • Lancashire County Council
  • Leicestershire Police and Crime Commissioners
  • London Borough of Haringey
  • London Borough of Lewisham
  • NHS England
  • Somerset County Council
  • Staffordshire County Council
  • Tri-borough councils: Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster
  • West Sussex County Council
  • Department for Work and Pensions

Wave 2:

  • Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner
  • Department for Communities and Local Government
  • Devon County Council
  • Fenland District Council
  • Gloucestershire County Council
  • Home Office
  • Knowsley Council (Health and Social Care Integration)
  • London Borough of Lambeth
  • London Borough of Sutton
  • Lowestoft Rising
  • Manchester City Council
  • Ministry of Defence healthcare
  • Norfolk County Council
  • Public Service Transformation Network
  • Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council
  • Shropshire
  • Somerset County Council
  • Staffordshire County Council
  • Stoke-On-Trent City Council
  • Coastal West Sussex, Horsham and Mid Sussex and Crawley CCGs
  • Swindon Borough Council
  • Tamworth Borough Council
  • West Sussex County Council
  • Westminster City Council on behalf of the tri-borough public service transformation agenda
  • Wirral Council
  • Department for Work and Pensions

Wave 3:

  • Basildon Borough Council
  • Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council
  • Canterbury and Coastal Clinical Commissioning Group
  • Cheltenham Borough Council
  • Cheshire East Council
  • Cumbria County Council
  • Department for Business Innovation and Skills
  • Department for Education
  • Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs
  • DWP Employment category
  • DWP Youth Engagement Fund
  • Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council
  • Essex County Council
  • HM Revenue and Customs
  • Kent County Council
  • London Borough of Waltham Forest
  • Manchester City Council
  • Merseyside Police and Crime Commissioner
  • Ministry of Defence
  • National Audit Office
  • NHS NE Essex
  • Northamptonshire Police and Crime Commissioner
  • North West London Whole System Integrated Care
  • Northern Ireland Prison Service
  • Oxfordshire Fire & Rescue
  • Southend-on-sea Borough Council
  • Staffordshire County Council
  • Warrington Borough Council

Wave 4:

  • Ashford Clinical Commissioning Group
  • Cabinet Office Civil Service HR
  • Cabinet Office Government Digital Service
  • Cabinet Office Government Innovation Group
  • Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner
  • Cambridgeshire Safer Communities Partnership
  • Cherwell District, South Northants and Stratford on Avon Councils
  • Cheshire East Council
  • Cheshire West and Chester Council
  • Crown Prosecution Service
  • Department of Health Social Care
  • DWP Policy Delivery
  • Foreign and Commonwealth Office Consular
  • Harborough District Council
  • Home Office Border Force
  • Home Office Immigration Enforcement
  • Milton Keynes Council
  • Ministry of Defence
  • National Audit Office
  • National Offender Management Service
  • NHS England
  • Northamptonshire County Council
  • Nottinghamshire Police and Crime Commissioner
  • West Sussex County Council
  • Skills Funding Agency
  • Stoke-on-Trent City Council
  • Suffolk Coastal
  • Sunderland City Council
  • Wakefield Metropolitan District Council
  • Walsall Council
  • Worcestershire County Council

Wave 5:

  • Barnsley Council
  • Buckinghamshire County Council
  • Canterbury City Council
  • Child Outcomes Research Consortium
  • Dacorum Borough Council
  • Department for Business Innovation and Skills — knowledge and innovation
  • Department for Business Innovation and Skills — further education colleges
  • Department for Education
  • Department for Energy and Climate Change
  • Department for Transport
  • Department for Work and Pensions — Fraud Error and Debt
  • Home Office — UK Visa Immigration
  • HM Revenue and Customs — Personal Tax
  • HM Revenue and Customs — Risk and Intelligence Service
  • Humberside Police and Crime Commissioners
  • London Borough of Southwark
  • London Borough of Waltham Forest
  • Metropolitan Police Service
  • Ministry of Justice
  • NHS Central London Clinical Commissioning Group
  • Slough Borough Council
  • Southampton City Council
  • Thurrock Council
  • Western Bay Health and Social Care Collaborative
Published 31 January 2013
Last updated 3 February 2016 + show all updates
  1. New arrangements are being put in place for the delivery of the Commissioning Academy from spring 2016.

  2. Update to costs

  3. Added list of organisations participating in Wave 5.

  4. Added link to case studies.

  5. Added details of new Office for Civil Society Commissioning School pilot.

  6. Added wave 3 and 4 participating organisations.

  7. The next application deadline is 30 January 2014 for cohorts starting in March 2015.

  8. Added information about applications for cohorts starting in October 2014.

  9. Updated participating organisations for Wave 2.

  10. Updated information about partners and application dates.

  11. First published.