How to Write a Forward-Thinking Government Website RFP for Maximum ROI
Updating a government website is a major endeavor, one that requires a sustained effort over a long period of time. Writing the RFP (request for proposal) for your website is a crucial part of the process — it’s how you articulate every aspect of the project. If you are at the point where your government organization is ready to draft an RFP for your new website, you’ve already put in significant legwork. You’ve defined problems and discussed solutions for your current website, and you know you can’t fix them internally. Your site may have needed intervention a long time ago, so taking action is a big deal.
Get it right, and you can expect to get your organization’s needs met because you chose the right partner and laid the foundation for the right deliverables. Get the RFP wrong, and you may devote time to irrelevant issues and delay adoption of technical innovations. Worse, your organization’s needs — and the needs of the citizens you serve — could remain unmet.
So how do you ensure you get your RFP right? How will you avoid mistakes that could negatively impact your organization's goals? To maximize the return on your website investment, you'll need to think like a visionary as you craft your RFP.
What Are the Goals of an RFP?
An RFP is essentially a “help wanted” advertisement. There’s a job on the horizon. Who thinks they can do it best — and for the best price?
One goal of an RFP is to accurately detail an organizational project plan and outline the specific goals and parameters of the required work. Another goal is to ask vendors questions about their experience, timelines, and processes so the organization can compare prospective partners — and then make the right vendor choice.
This process eliminates bias and keeps the job competition fair. And because RFPs are public, transparency keeps all parties accountable.
When Writing an RFP, Avoid the Most Common Mistakes
When you’re writing an RFP for a government website project, there are a lot of steps to follow. And you’ve got to make decisions all along the way — about boundaries, budgets, and timelines. You (and the rest of the stakeholders) may feel overwhelmed and frustrated at times.
It might even be tempting to take a few shortcuts in this daunting task. RFP shortcuts (like copy-pasting sections of another government document) lead to inconsistency at best and sloppiness at worst.
But copy-pastes are not the worst mistakes you can make when you’re writing an RFP.
There are three big-picture issues that are easy to miss — and can have serious consequences for your organizational goals:
- RFP writers don’t anticipate the time required to get them right. A quick Google search may tell you an RFP takes weeks to write. The reality is that it typically can take months or even years to finish. Time roadblocks can appear for many reasons. Budgets may shift. And evaluating and responding to possible vendors can take far longer than you might expect.
- RFP writers focus only on current pain points. Making a wish list based on the current problems with your website is one way to inform the scope of the RFP. Given that the process can (and often does) take years, current pain points can become past pain points by the time prospective vendors submit their proposals.
- RFP writers don’t consider user success. Your definition of future website success should be rooted in how well it will serve its users — both public and departmental. Are you writing an RFP that’s built out of a strong understanding of these different groups and their needs?
Minimize Risk By Writing a Visionary RFP
When you are planning a government organization website, you are aiming for maximum efficiency and minimum risk. The best way to protect your organization against risk is by facing the future. When your project is complete, you’ll want it to meet the demands that exist then. That requires collaborative and anticipatory planning. Here’s how to minimize your risk.
Align all stakeholders
Your website RFP should be the result of collaboration between all your stakeholders. Even if members work outside of the information technology and communications departments, their voices need to be heard. Your website isn’t just your organization’s digital front door. It’s also your entire team’s workspace — and they all need to be able to easily navigate it.
Listening to all members’ questions and concerns in the earliest stages will allow you to fill in information gaps and calm any trepidation. Then you can work together cohesively to build an RFP for a website you’ll all value.
Take a holistic approach
As you begin to choose details for your RFP, it’s natural to focus only on today’s pain points. A website that’s outdated or malfunctioning can result in a laundry list of complaints you may feel compelled to attend to.
While you can’t ignore today’s problems, a smart RFP includes a future perspective — and that necessitates creating citizen-centric digital experiences. Chatbots and screenless interactions are becoming standard fare in other sectors. Thinking like a visionary as you write the RFP is mandatory. Otherwise, the site you build may be outdated on arrival.
Ask vendors how they manage change
As you assess and compare vendors, it’s important to investigate how they intend to support your organization through changes. Your questions should go beyond whether they have a call center to help resolve IT issues — and address key issues like these:
- How will the vendor maintain the general security and stability of your web platform?
- How will the vendor protect your website from cyber attacks?
- What will the vendor do to offer support in an emergency like COVID-19?
- How will the vendor provide urgent community news and alerts?
Writing your website RFP with a forward-thinking mindset can certainly help eliminate or manage unwelcome surprises. But more than that, your website’s primary objective — serving all of tomorrow’s citizens — depends on it.