Only three things in life are certain: death, taxes, and the slow pace of the public procurement process. Right? Well, sort of. With over a decade of experience reviewing and responding to government website RFPs, we’ve developed strategies you can use to decrease your stress, increase your speed, and improve your overall RFP process.
The government procurement process is an important way public organizations care for taxpayer dollars —it keeps the process fair. That doesn’t always make it easy or quick.
The scale of the decision-making involved in this process can be daunting. Does this scope of work reach the audience it needs to? Are we forgetting something important? Will our needs change by the time we publicize this RFP? If you are in the middle of a government website redesign bid process, these questions are probably keeping you up at night. These bids have the potential to change not just your website but your entire organization.
Government website RFPs are a unique blend of security requirements, communication needs, strategic goals, and balancing input from every department in your organization. Use these strategies to turn a process that can be overwhelming into something more manageable and more efficient.
#1 Know Your RFP Procurement Vocabulary
The great thing about this process is that you have more options than you might think in terms of solicitation.
First off, there’s an RFI, which is a Request for Information. This type of solicitation works best if there is a service and/or product your organization is interested in but not quite ready to hire a firm to complete. Once you receive the information requested, your organization will have a better idea of what products and services are available. An RFI will allow your organization to produce a better scope of work for a future RFQ (Request for Qualification) or RFP (Request for Proposals).
What we see organizations post the most are RFPs. With this option, you can choose whether or not to ask firms to submit pricing. Typically with this option, there is a detailed scope of work and requirements set out by your organization to attract proposals from firms closely aligned with your priorities for the project.
Oftentimes we see organizations use RFP interchangeably with RFQ (Request for Qualifications). RFQs should be posted when there is a distinct service you want completed and you have already gathered the information on what you’d like and what you’d want to avoid. These always include pricing since they are more direct about the services they expect to be provided.
Lastly there is an ITB (Invitation to Bid), which typically has pricing as the focal point of the document with information provided alongside it. These are most common when there is either a low-bidder policy in effect or if there have already been previous solicitations to gather information.This is a great option if time is of the essence and you already have the information you need in regards to services required of the chosen firm.
#2 Consider Ways to Get the Right Civic Vendors to Respond
Once you figure out the timing and logistics of posting a solicitation, you must narrow down what it is exactly that you want from firms. Whether it’s open source vs. proprietary or a specific hosting platform, all of this information should be included in your scope of work or desired qualifications to ensure that firms with that specialization are being targeted. This will also narrow down the responses you get, helping your organization stay on track in terms of evaluations.
Depending on your organization, there may be an opportunity to pre-screen vendors for an upcoming project and invite only a select few pre-qualified firms to participate. Understanding your bylaws and what is allowed for certain projects could help you narrow down the responses to firms that have the experience and references you desire. Additionally, your organization could have dollar thresholds for board meeting approvals that you may want to consider prior to posting a solicitation so you account for time more accurately in your proposal.
Understanding the typical turnaround times for solicitation through contract approval is crucial for proposals. That’s not to say that an unexpected event can’t alter schedules, but the more information you provide, the more likely it is that firms can respond accurately. And the better chance you get what you need, sooner.
#3 Set Smart Minimum Qualifications For Your Government Website Vendors
This may be obvious, but in our experience, this is an area that is criminally overlooked. Minimum qualifications are very important not only for your proposal, but also for the firms you are hoping to attract. Ensure you are using a forward-thinking approach in your scope, not just a quick-fix. You need something that can provide your organization longevity. One way to do this is by getting early input from the necessary departments, whether that’s I.T., Engineering, Communications, Marketing or HR. Having them list their requirements will guarantee that the document is cohesive for your entire organization.
Whether you require a 5-year experience minimum for building municipal websites or specific experience with open-source systems like Drupal or Wordpress, these are details that firms should know in order to assess if they are your best fit or not. There is always the possibility of a scope being “too tight,” but organizations like yours should be picky, especially when taxpayer dollars are involved.
#4 Split Out the Website Redesign Steps into Separate Projects
Another option to potentially speed up the RFP process is to divvy up the tasks into separate solicitations. Some firms have more experience with discovery, research, and design while others prefer the development and implementation side of things. Even if some firms do it all, timelines could alter their ability to produce deliverables at the rate you’d like them to. Splitting up the responsibilities almost guarantees that they are not signed up for too much too fast.
This option may take longer and involve more procurement, but it ensures that the best candidate for each section of work is being utilized. Separating the steps would also allow for your organization to assess what was gathered in the early stages of the project to ensure their expectations for the end result have not changed.
#5 Set the Bar Higher and Work with Municipal-Focused Firms
Your organization has multiple ways of making certain that they are choosing the best firm. One is to ensure that your evaluations are not solely based on one factor, but a combination of all the important criteria. Another way is to make it clear that firms responding must have experience in municipal and/or public-sector work.
Whether it is a county, city, special district or a state government website, focusing on firms with that specific experience could help your organization pick the best candidates who will understand the unique requirements of an organization like yours. The complexity of bureaucracy can deter some firms from wanting to apply, but those with related experience already have the knowledge and will to do the work, and likely will have a unique tool set to bring to the project that is tailored to your specific circumstances.
Procurement, now is it really so bad?
The procurement process can be tiresome, but following the steps outlined above helps municipalities like yours make sure you are choosing the right firm. Whether it’s a project with a quick turnaround or a long-term partnership, you owe it to your constituents to make sure steps are being taken to award the most qualified firm the opportunity to work with their taxpayer