Thursday, February 18, 2010

Follow-up on Whether RFPs Should Invite Exceptions

On February 11, 2010, I posted a blog entry on whether RFPs should contain language inviting proposers to take exceptions to requirements of the RFP.

Proponents on Both Sides:  I heard from some who agreed that such language should not be included in RFPs and that to do so puts the integrity of the whole selection process at risk.  But I also heard from others who argued that the whole intent of an RFP was to obtain the most creative and competitive solutions to an agency's stated problem or need, and that proposers should be encouraged to think outside of the box.

Restricting Exceptions to Scope of Work Approach:  Clearly, creativity in responses should be encouraged.   That's why an RFP is a Request for "Proposals." However, I think the key to maintaining the integrity of the selection process is in what is actually stated in the RFP.  Encouraging exceptions to the RFP should be restricted to the scope of work as proposed by the public agency, and should not be so broad as to invite proposers to take exception to the process, the evaluation criteria, or other factors.  In addition, the RFP must state how variations from the scope of work as articulated in the RFP will be evaluated.

Suggested Language:  Here's some quick language that preserves the integrity of the competitive selection process, while at the same time encourages genuine "proposals" that put forth creative solutions:
"In responding to this RFP, proposers must provide all of the information requested, and comply with all of the procedural requirements of the RFP. The public agency encourages proposers to submit proposals that creatively and competitively address the programmatic objectives and scope of work outlined in the RFP.  Proposers should note that one of the evaluation criteria described elsewhere in this RFP states that the public agency will award up to ___ points for how effectively, efficiently, and creatively the proposer submits a proposal that meets the public agency's objectives."
Balancing Transparency and Creativity:  This suggested language, which can certainly be improved upon for a specific project, avoids language that invites proposers to take "exceptions" to any portion of the RFP, and instead positively notes that points will be awarded for creativity in responses.  This language also avoids permitting proposers to take exception to processes and other elements of the RFP, restricting variations to different approaches in meeting the programmatic objectives and the scope of work.  On the whole, I think language like this can help meet both the objectives of maintaining a clear and transparent selection process, while at the same time encouraging creativity in responses.

Results of the Blog Poll:  For the last week, I included a poll on my blog asking whether exceptions language should be included in RFPs.  The results are now in: 50% voted "no" and 50% voted "yes."  The response rate to the poll, however, was low.  Only four people voted.

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