Lessons Learned from Applying for 100+ Evaluations by Sara Vaca

Dear AEA365 readers, I’m Sara Vaca (independent evaluator), bringing my monthly Saturday post. I started consulting in 2013 and I must have conducted 20-ish evaluations since then. In order to do that, I must have sent out 100-ish proposal applications. Here are some reflections from that experience…

Lessons Learned: About how it works

  1. Once you start building your network (organizations and evaluators who know you personally), sometimes work comes magically to your inbox. However, most of the time you have to apply, responding to published Requests for Proposals or Terms of Reference (ToR), to be considered to conduct an evaluation.
  2. For good or for bad, organisations (at least NGOs and UN Agencies) have reached a rather standardised way of crafting the ToRs. Very often, you find something similar to this in the “How to apply” section:

In responding to this call for expressions of interest evaluators are to outline:

    • An evaluation methodology not exceeding (from 2 to 10) pages which includes the methodology and data collection tools that the evaluator proposes to use.
    • Proposed timeline for the evaluation
    • A detailed budget for the proposal

Lessons Learned: About how I react

As a consultant looking for contracts, you have decisions to make:

  1. First: is it worth investing 3-8 hours to prepare a methodological proposal? In my work flow, I tend to apply only when asked simply for a cover letter and I usually get by like that, unless my last contract is finishing and nothing has come up yet (like now! ;-P). Then, I have to be more invested and spend time preparing longer applications.
  2. Second: you wonder what commissioners are looking for? Often ToRs already suggest methods, sometimes approaches, timeline, etc. Are they are looking for innovation? Your explanation with your own words? In-depth details? New ideas?

And I always think: What?? 6, 10 pages?? I’m not going to write 10 pages. But if I decide to apply, explaining and justifying Approach, Design, Methods, Participation, Sampling, Analysis methods and Ethical questions quickly adds up to more than 10 pages – which on the other hand is basically the content of the Inception Report (initial product you are asked for, explaining the methodology in detail, but with insufficient information (still you need to do it though).

Also, although I know the catalogue of choices is broad and evaluations vary greatly, I often feel it is the same design over and over, and what seem like big differences, are in fact, subtle in practice.

Hot Tip: Finally, not a tip, but request for tips:

  • I invite commissioners to share what they are looking for when they ask for technical proposals and timeframe. Could there be a more efficient way of selecting consultants?
  • For veteran evaluators: how do you approach this process?

Many thanks 🙂

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on theaea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

7 thoughts on “Lessons Learned from Applying for 100+ Evaluations by Sara Vaca”

  1. I am just starting to formalize my consulting business. Among the many things I need to think through, is how am I going to get clients!?!?! I suppose this has a lot to do with marketing, right? Website, social media, Emails/calls to local companies? RFPs and the like are very intimidating to me at this point and I think I need to focus my efforts on smaller, projects for the short to medium term. Is there a source I can go to for applying for these smaller projects? Any advise you can share is very welcome…

  2. Wow! This is Great. I truly identify with this. I get most of my international assignments from Networks that I have created through the Evaluation Conferences. Also networks created on professional social media like LinkedIn has worked wonders for me. I have made it a habit not to apply for any Consultancy which requires extensive methodological proposal. In most instances, these are just meant to help the organisation fulfil ‘procurement requirements’, and then when they end up not taking you, they will still use your good methodology with the selected Applicant. So it is like you have given the organisation a correct methodology for free. It is better to mention that the comprehensive methodology will be discussed at the Contracting Stage and Inception phase. But then again, some organisations will insist that you will be selected based on the most appropriate methodology advanced, so here again, we Consultants are in a Catch-22 Situation.

    1. Thanks Awuor! Great thoughts!
      Conferences and Linkedin bring me contacts and satisfaction, but not work so far… but I still love them.
      Thanks for sharing.

  3. Hi Sara,
    I sometimes add a sentence like ” The workplan here is a draft and will be finalized with the client when we meet and discuss the needs of the projects. At that time, the client may wish to consider alternative approaches such as X, Y that may be interesting and appropriate for the task at hand.” Some clients just want to stay to what they know, but there are others who get excited by the possibility of X and Y, approaches that they didn’t even know existed, and after learning about it, they may wanna incorporate some of that into their work. But I hear what you are saying though, and BTW I enjoy your creative visual evaluation products : )

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