What's New in City Design

Unsolicited Proposals for Innovative Technology

Government agencies and offices are creating structured programs to accept unsolicited proposals as an alternative to issuing detailed Requests for Proposals (RfPs). This allows an agency to efficiently procure for new products and unique services. Unsolicited bids are similar to sole source contracts, though are often more flexible.

Benefits & Problems Addressed

Access to cutting-edge ideas: Open bidding relieves pressure on local governments to constantly stay ahead of trends. 

Negotiated work plans: Instead of specifying a project in detail, unsolicited bids allow for a negotiated work plan.

Expedited procurement: Depending on program structure, unsolicited bids can advance more quickly to procurement.

Process for acquiring services with sensitive, proprietary information: Many agencies already have provisions for sole source contracts, which are typically made available in full for public review and/or subject to other rules. An unsolicited bid program can establish procedures for keeping certain data, design or operations confidential.

Tips & Techniques

Establishing an unsolicited bids program: The first step is to (1) Meet with the city/county/agency attorney to address areas of concern and create legal parameters for meeting rules on competition, transparency, disadvantaged vendors and challenges; (2) Develop rules, criteria and review timelines for accepting bids; (3) Determine budgets and funding sources ahead of time; (4) Establish baseline performance improvements for any and all unsolicited bids including a firms' financial capacity; (5) Determine roles and responsibilities among vendors, agency departments and procurement.

Program elements:  Program elements include (1) Point person within procurement to process unsolicited bids, (2) Staff training modules and standard operating procedures, (3) Review process including threshold criteria and if needed, a series of consultations prior to award; (4) Kick-off and work plan development; (5) Public notice of proposal and successful bid; (6) Project delivery milestones and monitoring; (7) Final project deliverables.

Success factors: Factors can include (1) Scheduling pre-submission meetings with vendors, (2) Establishing a website with FAQs and priorities, (3) Asking proposers for conceptual proposals first rather than a full work plan, (4) Dedicated staff from Departments likely to adopt the service or technology, (5) Procedures to document success or failure against criteria, (6) Ensuring the proposer's financial and technical capacity prior to accepting and processing the bid.

Handling confidential and trade secrets: Technology companies often to designate certain aspects of hardware & software design as confidential business information. This runs counter to governments' open public records laws and procedures. Localities will need to determine whether all bids are subject to open records rules, or create a process to hold confidential certain proprietary information.  Likewise, agencies will need to ensure the bidder is not using another company's patented technology. Companies requesting special treatment will also need to sign a release allowing a locality use of patented material, trade secrets and/or confidential data.

Hot Buttons: Perceptions that the unsolicited bid process is used to skirt the safeguards built into traditional procurement procedures.  There can be pushback from other vendors working on similar projects or solutions.


Unsolicited Proposal Policy: LA METRO, Los Angeles CA

Unsolicited Proposals Policy: Regional Transportation District (RTD), Denver CO