RoE TIG Week with EvaluATE: Smoothing the Evaluator Procurement Process by Mike Lesiecki

I’m Mike Lesiecki, with EvaluATE, the evaluation hub for the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program. With colleagues at EvaluATE, I’ve been conducting research on how PIs in the ATE program select and contract with evaluators.

This research-on-evaluation (RoE) study looks at a problem common to many institutional grantseekers and evaluators: Funders, PIs, and evaluators all acknowledge the benefits of involving evaluators early in the process of developing a grant proposal. But this practice can be at odds with institutions’ policies; they often require time-consuming procurement processes before engaging with a contractor.

Using survey responses from 279 ATE projects, we’ve gleaned some tips that grant applicants can use to navigate their institutions’ procurement policies:

Hot Tips for Principal Investigators (PIs):
  • Know the funder’s requirements: As you’re developing the proposal, read and understand the area of the solicitation regarding external evaluation.
  • Befriend your institution’s “buyer” or fiscal agent: Identify the person within your institution’s purchasing department who is in charge of procuring consultant services. Make an appointment to meet them and discuss your proposal. If your institution has a grants developer, invite that person to join, too. The in-person element is key! By meeting face-to-face you develop a level of understanding that will help with many future grants management issues.
  • Know what you can say: Your institution’s fiscal agent can help you understand what you are and aren’t allowed to say to your potential evaluator during the bid process.
  • Know your timeline:
    • If your institution requires a competitive bid process, be aware that it may take two or more months. Ideally, the evaluator will participate in developing the proposal. So, if your institution requires competitive bids, you’ll need to start early.  
    • If your buyer says a “sole source justification” is ok, once you have identified an evaluator and their rate/cost, you can proceed to work with the evaluator on the proposal.
    • If your institution will simply allow you to name the evaluator in the proposal and then contract with them after the award is made, consider yourself fortunate.
Hot Tips for Evaluators:
  • Be aware of procurement snags: If a PI asks you to help develop the proposal as a first step in becoming a project’s evaluator, get clarification on their institution’s procurement process.
  • Ask for a commitment: If the PI is free to choose you, make sure your commitment letter states you will enter into a contract once the proposal is funded. Demonstrate that your rate and total cost are consistent with the scope of the work and your expertise.
  • Send the info they need: If the project asks you for a competitive quote, they will need your rate, total cost, and qualifications. They should send you an email stating whether your quote is accepted and allowing you to proceed.
  • Bid well: If the project initiates a competitive bidding process and you are invited to bid or respond to a public announcement of the bid, carefully match your qualifications and expertise to the bid requirements. If there isn’t a match, you may not be considered competitive.
  • Decline if necessary: If you decline to bid, do so officially. Your response will help the project demonstrate competition.

We hope these practices will result in a top-notch proposal and a long and happy evaluator–project relationship, that your institution’s procurement office is glad to sign off on!

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Research on Evaluation (ROE) Topical Interest Group Week. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from our ROE TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this AEA365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the AEA365 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 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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