Albert Einstein's definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. We contend that the definition of futility is understanding the definition of insanity but doing nothing about it, which perfectly encapsulates the current state of requests for proposal (RFPs). Organizations keep writing them the same way they’ve always been written, often not getting the results they want, but not changing the cycle. DGI’s philosophy: It’s time to change this approach.
The Intent is Great
Like most educational initiatives, a request for proposal (RFP) starts with the best of intentions: school districts are looking for ways to achieve student outcomes, provide a safe environment conducive to learning, or any of an extensive list of admirable organizational objectives, and they believe technology will be important in achieving them. Those districts take their list of stuff (that they’re assuming will help achieve goals) to a vendor who doesn’t care about the outcomes but is willing to help them make a purchase.
But it Goes Downhill Quickly
While intentions are noble, the projects resulting from that list of stuff are frequently underwhelming. If we’re being blunt, many districts get no closer to their objectives, and they’re stuck with technology that is underutilized or less than impactful. The RFP that facilitated the purchase and installation of that list of stuff sounds a lot like a request for problems.
And (Almost) Everyone Agrees
It also sounds like a problem to many of the educational institutions that are still using this system. In fact, 83% of the time, districts report some level of dissatisfaction with the outcome of an RFP project. Inversely, that means that only 17% of projects that begin with an RFP end with a completely satisfactory result. We may not be teachers, but 17% doesn’t sound like a passing grade to us.
Where Does it Go Wrong?
So what’s the issue? Well, it starts when districts and vendors view an RFP like a grocery list. If you simply go to the grocery store with a list of items, looking primarily at the criteria of whether or not that store meets your expectations in terms of price, what goals have you accomplished when you get home with your food? Oh, wait. You didn’t define the goals you wanted to achieve with your grocery purchase. Are you looking for a certain health outcome? Do you want to feed a particular number of people? Are you cooking for a special occasion, or do you want food that’s convenient? If you don’t establish goals and define success criteria, how do you know you’ve purchased food that will actually provide the outcomes you want?
You might be wondering why we’re discussing grocery shopping in the middle of an article about RFPs. The truth is that many RFPs are treated the same way we treat grocery shopping: we write down a list of technology, go to a vendor, make the purchase, consume (i.e., install) it, and wonder why we’re not meeting the goals that we never actually defined or planned. How on earth do you expect to achieve specific objectives through a technology initiative when you’re only working from a list of "stuff?"
The Root of the Problem
One of the biggest missed opportunities we see with school districts in general is that they don’t work with partners. They work with vendors, and vendors often don’t discuss objectives, success criteria, or measurements. They’re more than happy to fill your order, but they won’t help you define or move toward achieving organizational objectives.
A partner will have an in-depth discussion with you about the why (as in the reason you’re interested in access points or surveillance cameras or SMART Boards). Are you trying to create an environment in which students, teachers, and leaders can easily disseminate and access information? Are you aiming to boost campus safety? Are you looking for innovative ways to deliver curriculum so that your students will be better able to understand and apply the information? These are very important discussions to have before any type of technology is purchased. The conversation will require:
- Input from many different departments
- Measurable success criteria with milestones
- Establishment of specific plans to help key stakeholders and participants understand roles, responsibilities, and the action plan(s) associated with the project
- Proof that your technology partner has experience achieving the goals you’re looking to accomplish
None of these undertakings are possible if you call a vendor with a list of stuff. The procurement model is one of the biggest problems we have in education today. One solution is to stop using vendors altogether. DGI is not a vendor. We’re a partner with decades of combined experience in the K-12 vertical, and we can help you establish a procurement process that leads to true and measurable success.
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