District Communications: Questions to ask during RFP/RFQs
July 27th, 2018
Recently when approached with questions about public communications by an elected official, we asked how we could help. His response was, "I don't know...I'm not really sure what questions I should ask or what direction we should take, I just know we've thought that we should be more accessible to our residents. Maybe we want a website? We aren't certain how to proceed here."
Having realized that most entities that go down this path aren't generally ready to ask the right questions, as they "don't know what they don't know," we developed a list of the top considerations to have when exploring implementing public communications for the public sector. If a public entity has ever raised the question "what about a website?" then this list is for just that discussion.
Here is the approach we developed for districts considering communications and transparency in public sector:
- Does the board want a website vendor?
Vendors build and host the website but do not contribute content unless it is given to them. Your trash company and landscaping contracts might be a valid example of a vendor contract.
Be prepared to assign sending content regularly to the vendor. This can be a board member, but most legal counsel will likely recommend they vet all content before it gets released, if not completely creating the content–so be mindful of that potential expense.
- Does the board want a communications consultant?
Consultants work with the board and the existing consultants (legal, operator, engineer, etc) to curate and produce content for posting to website, text message, email, or printed pieces for dissemination.
A communications consultant generally has lesser rates than attorneys, engineers, etc , but also tends to produce more content and is ultimately responsible for creation, editing, publishing, layout, design, strategy, etc... More turn-key.
- How do we shop for vendors or consultants?
Both are similar processes. Vendors are generally sought by releasing an RFP (Request for Proposal) to get a bid on the product they are offering. As usual, the board may select any of the bids, even if it's the most costly.
Communications consultants are professional services and are generally sought by issuing an RFQ (Request for Qualifications). As this is a solicitation for professional services, boards are not required to seek additional bids, but may do so at their discretion.
- What qualifications should we be mindful of for either role?
- Public sector is a different landscape with different rules than private sector. Consequently, expect potential vendors/consultants to have prior municipal/public sector experience, not just private sector.
- Are they well versed in legal requirements necessary to serve your District? This may be as benign as knowing what a TEC 1295 form is, but rest assured these items are an indication of experience.
- Do they have a comprehensive understanding of what is required of a District's website to keep it compliant? As you know, a poorly managed website can be worse than no website.
- How much experience do they have? Find out how long they've operated in this space and ask for sample work from comparable clients, which might include any special purpose district (i.e. MUDs, ESDs, LIDs, ISDs, Counties, etc...)
- What other options should the board consider during this process?
As you approach the subject matter some useful ideas to consider for adoption may also include:
- Emergency text and/or email to our residents - If so, who do we charge with releasing the alerts when appropriate? Do we divide the residents into groups by neighborhood/zone prior to texting or have all residents receive all texts?
- Email addresses for the board members themselves - Do we want to have separate District email addresses at our new domain name? Are we concerned about conducting public business on personal email accounts?
- Do we want our reports sent and archived digitally from our consultants? If reports are received and archived prior to meetings would that allow us ample time to review them fully without rushing through hastily during board meetings? Could this effectively shorten our meeting times and thereby reduce District's expense of hosting our meetings?
Do you have another idea? A better question we missed? Let us know.