An RFI Guide: How Requests for Information Can Improve Government Human Services Contracting

Case Studies, Leading Examples, and Perspectives

RFI Case Studies
and Leading Examples

An increasing number of innovative governments have already improved outcomes by implementing the concepts outlined in the Collaborative Procurement Questions and Steps to Effectively Integrate an RFI into the Procurement Process sections of this guide. The sample Requests for Information (RFIs) and case studies below provide leading examples that can be employed by other governments to solicit feedback from human services providers and community stakeholders as a way to increase collaboration, enhance competition, and prioritize evidence-based programs.

Together these sample RFIs and case studies provide strong examples of how local and state governments have employed a more collaborative procurement process to achieve improved outcomes for their residents. It is worth noting that while a number of the examples below are related to Pay for Success projects, they can nonetheless be used for a much wider range of procurements. In fact, one of the key takeaways from local and state Pay for Success initiatives has been that increased collaboration between governments and human services providers leads to better outcomes.


Through its Office of State Planning and Budgeting, the State of Colorado released a Call for Innovation in January 2017 for proposals highlighting innovative approaches to measurably improving outcomes for Colorado youth involved or at high risk of involvement in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Overall, 61 proposals were submitted in response to this Call for Innovation resulting in three state-funded Pay for Success projects to serve Colorado youth and their families.

New York City

New York City has taken a comprehensive approach to increasing collaboration with human services providers and community stakeholders. This effort included the creation of a Nonprofit Resiliency Committee composed of city government officials, human services providers, and community groups. This Committee developed a Guide to Collaborative Communication which provides practical examples of how to use RFIs to increase the overall level of collaboration between government and human services providers.8

Rhode Island

The Strategies to Identify and Prevent At-Risk Families RFI developed by the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth, and Families contains in-depth questions on how to better structure, measure, and fund programs for children and families. In a related effort, this same Department moved to outcomes-focused contracts to expand family-based services by asking providers to propose the services, supports, and resources that would best enable children and families to achieve the outcomes prioritized by the Department. This approach, coupled with an institutionalized system of performance feedback loops, allowed the Department to make a 50% expansion in foster care resources for children with the highest need.

South Carolina

Through its Adapting Pay-for-Success Methods to Managed Care Incentives to Improve Health and Social Outcomes for Medicaid Beneficiaries RFI, the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services requested input on the specific outcomes, intervention strategies, payment structure, and potential barriers to improving the health of its residents. This RFI gathered information on innovative approaches to rewarding demonstrated improvement in health and social outcomes for beneficiaries


The Washington State Health Care Authority’s Community Engagement in Supportive Housing Interventions RFI provides an example of a clear project overview accompanied by very specific questions to elicit feedback about the best program models and potential partnerships for supportive housing. In its Best Starts for Kids program, King County (WA) used an equity lens to design its contracting process and focused on building trust between human services providers and King County government agencies. This focus led to major shifts in the King County contracting process including greater engagement of community members and local organizations to jointly develop shared goals and values for government contracts.

Harvard Kennedy School Government Performance Lab

The Government Performance Lab at the Harvard Kennedy School has a collection of exemplary RFIs and other government procurement documents. In addition, through Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities initiative, the Government Performance Lab has also helped a variety of jurisdictions use an RFI to improve outcomes, including Tempe (AZ) and Boston. In Boston, the city used a web form as an RFI to collect information from vendors; this led to a problem-based RFP that outlined outcome goals rather than specific solutions, allowing vendors to use their expertise to identify the best solutions. As part of What Works Cities, the Government Performance Lab has also developed strategies for governments to increase collaboration.


Sector Perspectives

Governments and human services providers bring unique perspectives to the work of solving community challenges. While governments often control budget and policy decisions, human services providers have significant expertise in how best to meet the needs of residents. In order to successfully increase collaboration and achieve more meaningful outcomes for those residents, it is important to understand the unique perspectives each of these stakeholders bring to their primary point of intersection: the human services contracting process.

Human Services Providers Perspective

For human services providers, developing, implementing, and continuously improving an evidence-based intervention that reliably produces meaningful and cost-effective outcomes requires significant and ongoing investment. The process to implement, evaluate, learn, and continually refine an intervention model is very resource intensive. A lack of sustainable funding for ongoing service delivery, even for the most proven intervention models, means that few providers have the resources needed for ongoing program improvement, evaluation, and evidence generation activities. As a result, few human services providers are engaged in continuous evidence building, few of their interventions have strong evidence demonstrating meaningful and sustained results, and government contracts continue to focus primarily on pricing and buying short-term inputs and outputs rather than outcomes of critical importance to communities and practitioners.

Furthermore, government practices, regulations, and laws far too often restrict human services providers’ access to critical data sources needed to produce evidence of impact across social service interventions. Government practices, regulations, and laws also present other obstacles to human services providers’ data analysis and evaluation efforts, including duplicative and conflicting data collection requirements and underfunded or unfunded data collection, analysis, and reporting requirements. Governments can play a critical role in providing the financial resources and access to administrative data needed by human services providers to develop their ability to regularly assess and report their evidence of impact. By strengthening human services providers access to outcomes data and providing sustainable funding for evidence-based programs, the government can serve as a crucial partner in scaling evidence-based interventions.

Public Sector Perspective

Local, state, and federal governments increasingly depend on human services providers to meet the needs of their residents. According to the 2013 National Survey of Nonprofit Government Contracting and Grants, “governments paid close to $81 billion to human services providers for services through contracts and grants in 2012.”9 Despite the size of this spending, many governments do not have strong partnerships with their contracted human services providers which impedes their ability to get the best outcomes for their residents.

Innovative government leaders who want to establish effective partnerships with human services providers to increase impact face several barriers to changing the status quo. First, procurement and privacy laws are often interpreted in ways that do not incentivize collaboration with human services providers or the sharing of administrative data with them. Second, administrative data are collected with diverse and inconsistent goals, definitions, and reporting units and are not always useful for measuring the impact of interventions. Furthermore, many government agencies have a culture of restricting access to critical data sources, rather than fostering a sharing and learning organizational mindset.

As a result, government contracts are typically focused on measuring inputs and outputs rather than longer-term outcomes, which makes it difficult to structure flexible contracts that allow resources to be redirected to meet changing program needs without time consuming contract amendments. Along with this focus on output targets, an overemphasis on compliance and contracting minutiae means that contracts are too often renewed year after year regardless of impact. As a result, there is a wide gulf between the status quo and the ideal state of collaborative, outcomes-focused, and community-first contracting.


Aligning Sector Perspectives to Build a Better Government Procurement Process

This Request for Information (RFI) Guide is one tool that can help governments and human services providers move away from the output-focused status quo to create partnerships that focus on delivering meaningful outcomes for communities in need. As one example, King County (WA), through their Best Starts for Kids initiative, implemented a more accessible, collaborative, and outcomes-focused contracting system that resulted in a significant increase in new organizations applying for publicly available funds. Collaborative planning and partnership development position both government and human services providers to better accomplish their respective goals: successful outcomes-based human services contracts that make a measurable difference for communities.



Governments and human services providers can improve outcomes for residents through strong collaboration. This Request for Information (RFI) Guide uses a series of Collaborative Procurement Questions to help governments and human services providers jointly improve results at their primary point of intersection: the human services contracting process. By identifying the key questions that governments and human services providers should answer during every human services procurement, this guide is designed to increase collaboration and meet shared outcome goals. In sum, when governments and human services providers work together to implement accessible, collaborative, and outcomes-focused contracting, they can enhance positive results and better serve the young people, families, and communities who depend on them to provide the services they need to reach their fullest potential.



Project Evident and Results for America gratefully acknowledge the assistance of the individuals and organizations who provided their insight, advice, and expertise during the development of this Request for Information (RFI) Guide over the course of 2018. Results for America is also grateful to have received generous support from the Kresge Foundation and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation to help support the production of this RFI Guide.

RFI Guide Project Team:

Tamar Bauer, Entrepreneur in Residence, Project Evident
Sophie Bergmann, Program Associate, Results for America
Nichole Dunn, Vice President for Innovation and Community Impact,
Results for America (former)
Jed Herrmann, Senior Policy Advisor, Results for America
Sara Peters, Senior Director of Policy and Evidence, Project Evident


8 See page 14 of the Guide to Collaborative Communication for details on using an RFI.