Jon Mak - Making Better Bids
How Public Sector Evaluation Criteria Work
Criteria are the single most important part of the RFP when considering your proposal. You need to be sure you can demonstrate everything required in the criteria in order to be successful.
Well developed criteria will refer back to the Statement of Work, so you should refer to elements in the SOW when addressing specific criteria. However, a surprising number of government RFP’s do not actually request you “propose” anything: they often focus on you proving evidence of similar work that you have done in the past.
Ideally the criteria will allow you to propose innovative approaches and concepts to meet the requirement, but this is not particularly common today (though it is getting better!). If they do not explicitly ask that you include this material, you may consider including this in an appendix, or finding other creative ways of introducing your innovative solutions within your proposal.
The two typical types of criteria you see are Mandatory and Rated. While financial criteria are a consideration, we will not discuss them here.
The single biggest mistake in writing successful proposals is not adequately addressing mandatory criteria. Not clearly responding to all these elements typically results in all your work being thrown out early in the process for non-compliance.
Mandatory criteria are those where the solicitation document instructs the Bidder that they “must” do something. In response, it is critical that Bidders indicate not only that that the criteria are met, but include a description of HOW you do so (whether it’s at present, how you have done so in the past, or how you will in the work in the future all depend on how the criteria are written).
If you do not clearly address each and every single element in the mandatory criteria, with exceptions where processes allow for correction, your bid will be deemed non-compliant and your Proposal will not be given any additional consideration on the basis of the point rated. Note that sometimes you can, and in some cases should (or sometimes must), use language in response to mandatory criteria such as saying you “comply,” and that could be sufficient. However, when you do so it is best practice to expand on that response later on in the proposal. You will not typically be penalized for including additional supporting information in your response.
There are different types of mandatory criteria that give nuance to the above (administrative vs technical, for example), however generally speaking, the same approach applies.
While it is impossible to provide strong guidance that can be readily applicable to any criteria for any RFP, here are some guidelines that are generally applicable:
Typically rated criteria should be related to the SOW/SOR. If you are only given basic information, provide content in your proposal that is related to the work in the SOW.
For example, if the RFP says simply “Past Experience, 30%,” describe your experience that is specifically related to the work described in the SOW. Reference items in the SOW as you describe your project for the best results. But do not just copy the SOW! Remember, you should describe how you meet the requirement, not just restate the requirement!
Where you are given more details in the criteria, look for key words that they will use to evaluate you against. Two commonly used words are “similar” and “relevant.” When describing your experience, describe very specifically how and why it is similar and relevant to what they are asking for. Relate these descriptions to the work described in the SOW.
Address the criteria in the order that they appear in the RFP. If that order causes structural issues to your bid, provide cross-references where necessary so people can easily follow the flow of information.
Demonstrate what the criteria are asking for. This concept is absolutely key, so it bears repeating. Do not just state “We can do this” or “we did that on this project.” Describe how you will do something, when you have done it in the past, what the outcomes were and how they relate to the current requirement, and whatever else you need to describe to ensure the evaluators feel you have demonstrated what you said you can do or have done.
Look for “evaluatable” words: for example, if they want an “efficient” solution, indicate that your solution is efficient (using that word!) and HOW it is efficient. Adjectives within a rated criterion help to tell you what the target is that the evaluators are looking for. Paying attention to these and addressing them directly can be the difference between a bid that scores well, and an outstanding bid that positions the Bidder in the ranking.
Keep in Mind...
Reviewing an RFP with this information in mind should help you understand how to go about a preparing an effective proposal. This is a high-level overview of my approach, coming from someone who has been in the evaluation room. Others may have success with different approaches and the old axiom “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” could still apply!
Procurement, and proposal writing, is as much an art as it is a science. There are, after all, real people on the evaluation team interpreting the criteria in assessing your responses. There is a rather inconvenient truth that it is possible to find public sector RFPs where some or all of this advice is not particularly applicable. It is also important to keep in mind a quote from one of my favourite fictional characters: “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness. That is life.” (Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation).
With this information, we hope you have gained some new perspective with which to read through your next public sector RFP.