BE FAQ: How do I prepare and distribute Request for Proposal and Terms of Reference documents?

Hands of a person standing at a desk writing on documents

We often get email enquiries asking for advice about preparing the documents used to invite evaluators to assemble proposals for an evaluation.

These documents have a variety of labels, including Request for Proposal (RFP), Terms of Reference (TOR), and Scope of Work (SOW). The advice below focuses on two important aspects of this: writing a good RFP/TOR and sharing it in ways that will create the best pool of proposals.

How do I write a good TOR or RFP document?

The Terms of Reference (TOR) or Request for Proposal (RFP) documents are an explicit statement of the resources, roles and responsibilities of the evaluators and the evaluation commissioner or manager. It should describe what is to be evaluated (the project, program, policy etc.) and the purpose, scope, and key evaluation questions. In some cases, these include a suggested evaluation design; other times, the evaluator is asked to develop this as part of preparing the proposal or explaining how the design would be developed. (If you need guidance in developing these, Step 2: Scope the Evaluation in our Managers' Guide will help you through the process).

The ToR / RFP should also include reporting requirements, milestones or deliverables, time frames, and relevant contractual requirements.

You can find some further guidance on developing an RFP via the links below, and when you are ready to start writing your document, have a go at using our GeneraTOR.

I'd also recommend you read this Genuine Evaluation blog post by Jane Davidson and Patricia Rogers: 9 golden rules for commissioning a waste-of-money evaluation which has some great pointers on what not to do with your TOR.

How do I share my RFP/TOR with people?

Getting a good evaluator or evaluation team to take on your evaluation is important. Giving early notice of an evaluation and longer lead times to prepare a proposal and mobilise to start the evaluation can help increase the pool of available evaluators.

Think carefully about how to advertise the TOR. In addition to formal requirements for advertising (such as your organisational website or tenders director), consider specific evaluation communication channels.

Evaluation discussion lists can be a good way to connect with evaluators who are active in your geographic area and sector. MandE News has a long list of evaluation mailing lists that are a great starting point, which includes some of our go-tos such as the Peregrine discussion list, the RAMSES mailing list or the XCEVAL discussion list.

Job boards are also a great place to go to post your TOR. While some of these support opportunities from around the world, such as the LinkedIn Evaluation Jobs Group (which has over 6,000 members), others are more location-specific. It's worth checking out your local evaluation society or networks in your area to see if they have a localised job or tender list - for example, the Australasian Evaluation Society, the UK Evaluation Society, the American Evaluation Association all have current tenders lists - get in touch with your local association to see if they have a board or list you can access.

It can also be helpful to identify potential evaluators and ensure they are aware of the RFP that has been posted. Some organisations ask potential evaluators to indicate whether they plan to submit a proposal. This allows the organisation to seek other evaluators before the closing date if it seems there will be few proposals. These direct communications need to be done in ways that do not undercut the probity requirements of open tenders and should be restricted to sharing information about the RFP.

Another idea might be to have your organisation set up a provider panel or list. A formal provider panel involves inviting applications, assessing the capabilities of individuals, organisations or consortiums and adding approved applicants to a list of evaluators who will later be sent RFPs that match their capabilities. This process can significantly shorten the time taken to commission evaluations and also increase the likelihood of being able to engage a suitable evaluator or evaluation team. Alternatively, a provider list might be something more informal along the lines of a regularly updated database of potential evaluation providers to whom you can distribute your TOR. For an example of a formal provider panel, check out the Australian Government's Department of Social Services Research, Evaluation and Data (READ) panel (archived link).

Any suggestions?

Have we missed anything? What do you think needs to be included in a good RFP or TOR? And what are some other ways to get it out to the right evaluators?

Let us know using the "Help us improve this page" form below.