The area of assessment criteria in a Request for Proposals (RFP) could easily be a book on its own. Everyday questions arise when governments are writing RFPs or when contractors are responding to them.
One of the biggest problem areas in the evaluation process is in the assessment criteria.
As I have explained in many previous articles, the specifications and evaluation criteria in any RFP should relate directly and significantly to the functional needs that a given supply is intended to address.
However, even when all of the assessment criteria are pertinent to the procurement decision, the problem of too many assessment criteria may arise.
I have seen issues with major capital projects that will often have so many different purposes and requirements that the list of specifications and minimum qualifications can run into hundreds of pages.
If there are 200 or more things that one is looking for in a bid, giving each of them equal weighting means that each will have a value of 0.5 per cent or less in the final decision.
Criteria are mandatory when they are so important, that it is doubtful that the procurement project will proceed if no supplier can satisfy those criteria.
The mere fact that a particular specification is mandatory does not mean that it requires a numerical weighting in the final assessment decision.
On the contrary, mandatory criteria generally require no weighting: if they are not satisfied, then the bid is non-compliant.
For instance, if one were to buy a car, the need for four wheels is clearly a mandatory specification because tracked vehicles and hovercraft may not be taken on public roads, except under very limited conditions.
However, if one were to compare two cars, one would be unlikely to give much weight to the fact that both of them have wheels.
Much of the same applies with respect to other purchases.
If the municipality specifies a minimum level of experience as a pre-condition for the award of the contract, there is no need to give a weighting to this criteria.
More generally, when a particular item is so important that no purchase will occur if it is not present, then that item should not be given a weighting.
It should be set as mandatory criteria, so that, like a light switch: if the light is on, the project proceeds, but not otherwise.
In the service area, absolute requirements go to the capability of a supplier to carry out the contract. Again, such criteria should not be weighted, because they have a mandatory aspect to them.
Another method of reducing the number of assessment criteria to a manageable level is to group related criteria together, and then give them a collective score based on the overall extent to which they address a municipality’s need.
Some care is needed in doing this, however, in order to make sure that the process of evaluation conforms to the Ron Engineering line of case law, requiring that public tenders and RFP’s be conducted in a manner that is fair.
Either the criteria upon which they are being assessed must be clear to the proponents, or it must be made very clear that the municipality is reserving a great deal of discretion as to the manner in which it carries out the evaluation.
The possibility of reserving discretion brings me to the third problem area with respect to evaluation: specifically that the criteria of assessment are so subjective that it is difficult to reconcile or justify the approach that evaluators have taken towards scoring.
This has always been my biggest concern when RFP’s are written.
The more subjective the criteria, without an exact process of scoring, the easier it becomes to pick whoever you want to win on any given RFP.
Stephen Bauld, is Canada's leading expert on government procurement. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.