ERIC Identifier: ED334194
Publication Date: 1989-12-00
Author: Aschbacher, Pamela E.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Tests Measurement and Evaluation
Washington DC., American Institutes for Research Washington DC.
Writing RFPs for Assessment Programs. ERIC Digest.
Federal, state, and local education agencies use many types of measurement
tools for a wide array of assessment purposes. Often these agencies do
not have sufficient resources in-house to design a data collection plan
or to develop, administer, score, and report on needed measures, so they
turn to outside sources (such as universities, research centers, test publishers,
and other companies) for some of these services.
A Request for Proposals (RFP) is the formal document issued by an agency
to solicit such services. It describes in detail the nature of the particular
assessment services and materials desired. Interested applicants are invited
to submit proposals in accordance with a specified format to be delivered
to the funding agency by a specific deadline. Contracts are usually awarded
on the basis of both the technical merit of the proposal and the bidders'
estimates of the cost for doing the work. Occasionally there is only one
company (sole source) that can do the work, but more often responding to
RFPs is a competitive process.
This Digest provides an overview on writing your own RFPs. More detailed
information can be found in Aschbacher and Baker (1989).
WHY SHOULD RFPS BE CAREFULLY WRITTEN?
The RFP document is part of the eventual contract. Hence, for the sake
of both parties, it should be as clear and precise as possible to avoid
problems of interpretation. If a task is not mentioned in the RFP or pre-contract
negotiations, it is not a part of the contract, and the agency may not
be able to compel the contractor to do it.
The companies that provide tests and testing services benefit from receiving
clear, concise RFPs that spell out exactly what is needed, the desired
level of effort, and how proposals will be evaluated. A complete, precise
RFP reduces the risk to a company of losing staff time and money writing
a proposal that is not accepted.
The education agency soliciting assessment services, in turn, benefits
from receiving a reasonable number of "on target" responses to its RFPs.
The more good proposals, the more likely the agency will be able to obtain
the services it requires at a price it can afford. If an RFP is unclear,
some good companies may decide not to bid, and the agency may lose opportunities
for competitive bidding and good ideas.
WHAT ARE SOME BASIC ISSUES TO CONSIDER BEFORE WRITING AN RFP?
There are a few fundamental aspects of assessment projects that significantly
influence the planning of the RFP process and document.
1. Money. How much money is available? Is there enough to fund the entire
project or only a portion of it? Can you use a combination of fixed and
variable funding to avoid having to rewrite the contract if the final cost
is more than expected?
2. Time. How much time is available for the project? How flexible is
the schedule? Can you work with the legislature (or whoever sets the timeline)
ahead of time to ensure a reasonable mandate and to preserve the balance
of schedule, cost and quality? When little time is available, flexibility
may be gained from judicious wording of RFPs and full use of opportunities
to communicate with potential bidders prior to the issuance of the RFP.
How much time is budgeted for bidders to respond to the RFP? Complex projects
may benefit from more generous response times for bidders.
3. Nature of the project. Is the project an extension or replication
of an existing program or is it a new, innovative program? Does the technology
for solving the problem exist or does it need to be invented? How committed
is the agency to a specific solution? How free is the bidder to be creative?
(i.e., do the criteria for evaluating proposals support creativity?) On
the other hand, be aware that requiring a creative approach means eliminating
proposals that are good but not "creative."
4. Type of bid. Should the bid be sole source or competitive? Are there
several companies that might be able to do the work or really only one?
The RFP needs to be pitched accordingly.
5. Phases. Should there be more than one phase of the project (and hence
the RFP) to accomplish the goals? For example, large, complex or innovative
projects may be best served by a multiple phase proposal process. Each
phase may differ in the resources available, degree of innovation desired,
and suitability for competitive bidding. In addition, some projects may
be most effectively and economically accomplished by having separate contractors
provide different services, although this arrangement calls for careful
monitoring and coordination.
WHAT ARE TYPICAL CONSTRAINTS IN WRITING RFPS AND WHAT CAN BE DONE
There are several legitimate constraints that typically hinder the development
of "good" RFPs:
* limitations imposed by local, state, or federal policies and procedures
(e.g., the amount of time needed to authorize, develop, review, and accept
an RFP may necessitate the use of vague wording because the RFP must be
written before all the facts are known or decided)
* limited communication between agency and bidders (e.g., due to an
agency's attempt to preserve fairness)
* concern for cost, sometimes at the expense of technical quality (e.g.,
the agency may accept or be required by law to accept the lowest bid, even
when other proposals offer more desirable, higher quality work).
There are several strategies for dealing with these constraints.
1. Specify in the RFP as carefully as possible what is desired and expected.
Where the bidder is expected to offer creative solutions, outline in the
RFP any givens, decisions, legislation, or other constraints within which
the solutions must work. In the early stages of a developmental project,
however, it may be difficult to be precise about what is desired. In this
case, a planning meeting with consultants prior to writing the RFP to help
clarify and weigh options may be helpful. Alternatively, a planning or
design RFP might be used as the first step in the project, to help decide
how to proceed with the actual test development or other services.
2. Encourage fair and timely communication between the agency and bidders
or potential bidders. For example, introductory letters sent a month in
advance to announce an upcoming RFP effectively lengthen the response and
planning time for bidders and provide a crucial period when companies can
ask clarifying questions, which is particularly helpful in situations where
communications are virtually cut off once an RFP is issued. In addition,
a bidders' conference can provide useful information to bidders, especially
where the RFP was not specific or where the project is expensive, complex
or very innovative.
3. Build control of technical quality into the RFP and the project through
specifications in the scope of work section and the criteria for evaluating
proposals so that even the low bidders must provide the requisite quality
to be considered. It is often desirable for several reasons to allow bidders
to propose their own technical methods, but it is helpful to require that
they completely specify in their proposal the approach and rationale for
all major elements of their design. The information will make it easier
to compare approaches when reviewing proposals and to negotiate changes
in proposed approaches with the bidder who is finally selected. Technical
experts may be used as consultants to screen proposals, particularly if
complex statistical and technical methods are proposed. In addition, specifying
in the RFP that the contractor will provide full technical reports during
the project can facilitate later monitoring of the project.
Aschbacher, P. E. and Baker, E. L. (eds.) Improving Large-Scale Assessment.
Angeles: Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student
Testing, UCLA Graduate School of Education, 1989.
Baker, E. L. and Aschbacher, P. E. Report of State Level Activities:
Guidelines for the RFP Process and Selected Technical Issues in Large-Scale
Assessment Programs. Paper given at the annual ECS/CDE Assessment and Policy
Conference, Boulder, CO, June, 1987. ED 293 880
Center for Education Statistics (OERI/ED) Standards and Policies: Center
for Education Statistics, Washington, D.C., 1987. ED 285 910