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Guidelines for Developing an RFP for a GIS Needs Assessment

Why do an RFP?

Publishing an RFP (request for proposals) is a widely used technique for establishing a selection of qualified responses from which to choose when contracting for services.

Primary objectives:

  • you need to contract for services
  • you want to get the best value for the money you have available.

To accomplish these objectives, you need:

  • an RFP that contains the detail necessary to elicit a thorough enough response (the RFP clearly explains what you want to get),
  • to distribute the RFP to as many qualified vendors/consultants as you can.

What should your RFP include?

Project Overview

Provide a concise statement of what you're requesting vendors and consultants to do. If your project received State Archives funding and is limited to the amount of the grant award, include that information, as it will enable vendors to determine if your project falls within the range of their usual work. If the project must adhere to specific procedures or guidelines, you should also include this information.

EXAMPLE: Jones County, New York is requesting proposals form experienced GIS consulting firms to conduct a comprehensive Geographic Information System (GIS) Needs Assessment. The project is supported by a $22,000 grant from the New York State Archives; therefore, the completed Needs Assessment must conform to the requirements detailed in the Archives' Local Government GIS Development Guidelines.

Background and Project Information

Provide a succinct summary of relevant history that may be important to the project.

EXAMPLE: Jones County is a growing area in New York's Capital District, with a population of 200,000. General information on Jones County can be obtained from the County's website.

Although Jones County has not completed a GIS Needs Assessment, two county departments, (Real Property Tax Services and Planning) have individually begun to establish GIS. Each of these departments has one stand-alone PC and one copy of ArcView. Data used by these departments consists primarily of that which is freely available from the New York State GIS Data Sharing Cooperative (of which the County is a member). Three towns within the county are eager to move into GIS development, but are waiting for the County to take the lead on such a cooperative initiative.

Scope of Work

Your scope of work should be sufficiently detailed that you can adequately compare proposals from different vendors. Needs assessment projects funded by the State Archives should include the following components:

Needs Assessment

Objective/description: identification of potential GIS applications and existing resources, e.g., hardware, software, data, and staff. The departments to be interviewed should be listed in the RFP. This might include such departments as economic development, health, planning, public works, real property tax services, sewer, social services, etc.

Deliverables: a final report to include findings dealing with potential applications, necessary data, and required resources.

Conceptual system design

Objective/description: to provide a general framework for structuring GIS within the organization. The conceptual system design should address software recommendations, physical system configuration (computers, network requirements, etc.) as well as a conceptual database design based on the applications identified and master data list generated during the needs assessment phase.

Deliverable: Report.

Implementation plan

Objective/description: to provide a detailed description of how to begin implementing GIS within the organization. Plans for near-term projects should provide significant implementation details, with more general information provided for steps to be undertaken over the longer-term. Specifics should address applications to be developed as well as estimated costs and required resources (particularly for shorter-term implementations).

Deliverable: Report detailing recommendations.

Final presentation

Objective/description: to present an overall view of the project findings and recommendations to an audience that might include your elected officials, employees of the organization, and interested citizens. This is essentially an executive summary with an opportunity for a question and answer session.

Deliverables: Public presentation, generally utilizing electronic visuals to enhance understanding of the information presented. You may also want to request an executive summary to share with legislators and board members unable to attend the public presentation.

Additional Information

Your RFP should include several other pieces of information:

  • Requested qualifications of the vendor and the project team, relevant experience and references.
  • Who vendors should direct questions to, how questions should be submitted phone, e-mail, in writing) and how a response will be provided. To ensure a more equitable bidding process, vendors should submit questions in writing and you should provide the answers to the questions to all of the vendors that expressed interest in the RFP.
  • Required or desired format for responses (see below).
  • A description of the selection process and criteria (how and why).
  • Insurance requirements (workers' compensation, liability).
  • Any other documentation required by your government's purchasing process.
  • Logistics such as the number of copies the vendor must submit, relevant dates, required notarizations, etc.

Distributing your RFP

One method of efficiently distributing an RFP is to send out to a wide audience a one-page document announcing the availability of the full RFP. Vendors and consultants who are interested in your project can then contact you to obtain the full RFP. The announcement should specify that the full RFP is currently available and should also include:

  • the date by which request fo the RFP must be submitted,
  • the date by which a response is required, and
  • information on who to contact to obtain the full RFP.

Receiving responses to your RFP

Proposal format

Requiring all vendors bidding on a project to include the same information in their proposals will help you compare similarities and differences between bids. If you have specific requirements, include them in your RFP.

Typically an RFP requires that vendors provide:

  • A cover letter.
  • Statement of project understanding (is the vendor clear about what you're looking for?
  • Proposed methodology and project schedule (you should specify project start and completion dates, but let the vendors propose their own specific task completion schedule).
  • Qualifications
    • overall corporate qualifications
    • description of the project team, including roles and responsibilities
    • specific qualifications of the project team, including resumes
    • relevant project experience
  • References
  • Cost

Important dates

Your RFP should include the following dates:

  • Question submission cut-off date (the date by which vendors must submit any questions they have about the project)
  • Proposal due date
  • Proposal selection date
  • Project start date
  • Project completion date

Selection criteria

What criteria are you going to use to select the consultant (e.g., cost, qualifications, methodology, and availability within a particular time frame)? The criteria don't necessarily have to be specifically state in the RFP, but this information can be useful for bidders. Identify your selection criteria in order of importance, possibly even weighting various factors and developing a scoring scheme by which to compare proposals.

Evaluating proposals

Determine up front who will evaluate and score proposals within your organization. To provide for a consistent approach to evaluating proposals, this team or individual needs to be involved in all phases of consultant selection.

General approaches

  • Lowest bid/price (recommended for products, but be sure you're comparing "apples to apples."
  • Best value (recommended for services)

Common evaluation procedure

  • Assemble a panel of reviewers.
  • Utilize a checklist or grid to confirm that all required proposal elements are included. (What will you do if they're not? Disqualify the vendor?)
  • Assign numeric scores (e.g., 1-10) to evaluation criteria (e.g., approach, qualifications, cost, etc.). Weights can also be assigned to each criteria.
  • Interview top candidates (especially if there is no clear best choice).
  • Invite final candidates to provide a presentation on their understanding of the project, their proposed methodology, and their qualifications. The actual project team should make such presentations.
  • Follow up on outstanding questions or concerns.

This document was developed with the assistance of Austin Fisher, Applied GIS, Inc.