The Problem and Solution
Governments too often fail to meaningfully engage human services providers and community stakeholders in their procurement processes and, as a result, develop and implement human services contracts that are less effective than they could be in achieving desired outcomes for their residents. By skipping the important information gathering stage and simply releasing Requests for Proposal (which are often recycled from previous years’ procurements), governments miss crucial opportunities to improve results through collaboration and information sharing between the public sector, human services providers, and community stakeholders.
One solution is to develop partnerships between the public sector, human services providers, and community stakeholders to establish a shared vision for success and strategies for leveraging the collective talents of government and human services providers to achieve that vision. Implementing a government procurement process that engages human services providers and community stakeholders allows for greater alignment between sectors and better outcomes for residents. The Request for Information is a tool that can be used to engage human services providers and community stakeholders in the government procurement process.
The Request for Information
Requests for Information (RFIs) allow government, community stakeholders, and human services providers the opportunity to identify relevant community challenges, co-create strategies to solve those challenges, and design the best procurement structures to achieve the desired outcomes. An RFI is an important step in creating the type of open and inclusive collaboration needed between government and human services providers to support better social service delivery across the United States. Ultimately, improving outcomes for communities in need requires that both government and human services providers commit to improving the government procurement status quo. This work begins at the earliest stages of human services contracting when:
- Governments use RFIs to gather critical information from human services providers and community stakeholders to inform the goals of upcoming human services contracts and ensure that they are scoped appropriately in order to achieve the desired outcomes for residents.
- Human services providers use RFIs to provide their expertise and inform the goals and structure of an upcoming human services contract to help ensure that it is designed to maximize opportunities to achieve outcomes for residents.
Project Evident and Results for America came together to develop this RFI Guide because we believe that building stronger, results-focused partnerships between government, human services providers, and the community will contribute to meaningful and sustained outcomes for communities in need.
To accomplish these goals, this RFI Guide leads government and human services providers through a series of Collaborative Procurement Questions (described on page 7) that can be used over the course of the entire government contracting process (described on page 12), including in an RFI itself (sample RFIs are on page 14 and a Model RFI Template is on page 21). These Collaborative Procurement Questions are designed to elicit information from government, human services providers, and the community that will produce an improved procurement process (and ultimately better human services outcomes). By using these Collaborative Procurement Questions and the steps outlined in this RFI Guide, governments and human services providers can use an RFI process to improve outcomes by increasing collaboration, enhancing competition, and prioritizing evidence-based programs.
Introduction: Improving Human Services Contracting – Why an RFI?
Requests for Information (RFIs) are used to gather information from stakeholders before the start of an official government procurement process.1 By focusing on the pre-proposal phase and before any Request for Proposals (RFP) is released, the RFI allows for collaboration between government, human services providers, and community groups in a way that is not possible (and may be legally forbidden) during the latter stages of a formal government procurement process. Because an RFI occurs outside of the formal procurement process, it can be accomplished quickly (sometimes in a matter of weeks) and informally (through meetings, simple web forms, and even an email comment box). The RFI is an important (yet all too often missing) phase in the procurement process that can facilitate guided discussion, discovery, and learning about which types of human services programs may work best for a select population of individuals within a given jurisdiction’s purview.
The effective use of an RFI can lead to an improved human services procurement process and better outcomes for communities in need by:
- Improving collaboration: Increased cooperation between governments and human services providers, through the creation of a culture of shared accountability and joint problem- solving, in order to deliver better results toward clearly articulated outcome goals.
- Enhancing competition: Increased number and diversity of providers in the procurement process so that government contracts are better matched with highly qualified human services providers that are more likely to achieve meaningful results.
- Prioritizing evidence-based programs: Additional input and feedback from human services providers and community stakeholders leads to a more specific definition of the challenges facing a community, increasing the ability to match evidence-based practices and promising new programs to those particular challenges.
Collaborative government procurement processes supported by RFIs lay the foundation for the improved delivery of services that can fundamentally alter the outcomes achieved by human services providers. In fact, one of the key learnings from the implementation of Pay for Success and other outcomes-based funding structures over the last several years is that stronger collaboration between government leaders and human services providers is a key ingredient in achieving better outcomes.2 As such, this RFI Guide contains a series of Collaborative Procurement Questions which identify common-sense steps for governments and human services providers alike to improve government procurement processes and produce better outcomes for communities.
This RFI Guide builds upon the What Works Toolkit: A State and Local Government Policymaker’s Guide to Improving Human Services Contracting and Outcomes (What Works Toolkit) released by Results for America in August 2018. The What Works Toolkit details how state and local governments and human services providers can work together to implement accessible, collaborative, and outcomes-focused contracting to enhance positive results and better serve communities in need. Specifically, the What Works Toolkit has five detailed recommendations to move state and local government agencies and human services providers from compliance-focused to outcomes-focused contracting.
This RFI Guide most specifically builds upon Recommendation #1: Gather Feedback and Focus on Outcomes by using a collaborative procurement framework to explore the role of RFIs in helping governments take the first step of engaging human services providers and community stakeholders (including service recipients, community residents, and community-based organizations) to gather feedback, define desired objectives, and establish outcome goals for each key contract.
1 A Request for Information may also be called a Request for Feedback, a community feedback session, a Request for Innovation, or similar names. For more details on the key terms used in human services procurement, please see the Key Terminology section of the Results for America’s What Works Toolkit: A State and Local Government Policymaker’s Guide to Improving Human Services Contracting and Outcomes.
2 Pay for Success is a public-private partnership in which front-end funders (private and/or philanthropic entities) provide the upfront working capital to scale prevention-focused social interventions; government then compensates the front-end funders if the intervention is proven to produce a measurable social impact.