With few exceptions, public spending rightfully requires competition and due diligence to ensure fairness. We are not allowed to be “courted” by vendors offering great deals. We need to allow everyone to compete to ensure we are getting the best value. But what do you do when a vendor drops a proposal for a new technology that would replace your facility’s lighting products with a product that would run for 10 years longer than your current products, saving your agency 75 percent on electricity? That’s the time to look it UP.
If you don’t have an Unsolicited Proposals (UP) policy already, you should. Not only does it clarify for you and your staff exactly what they should do in these situations, it also allows you to consider new technologies or approaches which may be of substantial benefit to your municipality or government.
Unsolicited proposals can, potentially, be the source of significant benefits to the public sector. However, few governments or public sector agencies are likely to accept an unsolicited proposal regardless of its merit without a policy supporting their actions. Otherwise, the process will likely be seen as arbitrary and possibly offensive to the public policy of fair and open procurement.
In the best of all worlds, an unsolicited proposal would have the following characteristics:
- The proposal would deal with a unique, innovative product or service that provides direct savings to the agency and is not commercially available;
- The evaluation process is defined by an agency policy to ensure that the proposal is not simply a means of bypassing fair and open competition;
- The proposal is evaluated by an independent committee following a pre-defined procedure;
- The policy and procedure does not unduly limit fair and open competition; and
- The entire process is transparent.
In a recent informal survey of Canadian public entities, we found that most governments and public bodies in Canada have no policy related to unsolicited proposals and, as a result, discourage their submission. The maximum number of unsolicited proposals received by any agency surveyed was 12. Most received none. One PWGSC staff wrote: “(An) unsolicited (proposal) could be viewed as aimless solicitation from a supplier to a Material Manager.”
Without a policy framework to permit unsolicited proposals, these public entities have a practice of not accepting unsolicited proposals. And without a policy framework, vendors are reluctant to submit their proposals and expose their ideas to disclosure under access to information laws.
A few organizations do have policies and procedures in place. In British Columbia, the Core Policy and Procedures Manual deals with this topic. It first defines unsolicited proposals as being unique, addressing the needs of government, and recognizes goods or services that are not otherwise available in the marketplace. To ensure objectivity, the evaluation is done by an unsolicited proposal review panel; to preserve competition, a Notice of Intent (to sole source) is issued.
In Nova Scotia, there is a five-page policy that defines the intent and a three-step review process that includes departmental review and recommendation, review by Procurement Services and approval by the deputy minister of the sponsoring department.
The City of Toronto has the most granular, detailed policy and procedure related to evaluating unsolicited RFPs. Its five-page procedure requires that a vendor first submit a Concept Plan. If judged meritorious by the city, the vendor is invited to submit a Quotation/Proposal, which is then evaluated. The process includes a “Swiss challenge” – requesting proposals from the private sector and then permitting the original vendor to match or improve upon the offers received.
Unsolicited proposals do have a place in public procurement. If one of our main goals is to get best value from the taxpayers’ purchasing power, we should not eliminate potential cost savings ideas from the mix. Having a sound, well thought out, well executed unsolicited proposals policy can help.
As long there is a mechanism in the policy to cull the wheat from the chaff – the innovative ideas from the bogus marketing ploys – with fair evaluation while protecting the proprietary interests of the vendors, the benefits to the public can be substantial.
A bibliography of articles and policies related to unsolicited proposals used in preparing this column can be viewed at: www.rfpmentor.com/unsolicitedbibliography.com