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At our recent Talking Data Equity session, 150+ people turned up to discuss one of the most important (and frustrating) parts of the data ecosystem in the mission-driven sector: Requests for Proposals (RFPs).

If you haven’t been through such a process, it’s essentially when a team or organization identifies a need for a service or product and then puts out a call, usually in the form of a bidding submission process, for individuals, teams, or organizations to provide said service or product. People putting out RFPs are on the money side and therefore wield a lot of power in steering the work that gets done, gatekeeping who does the work and defining what kind of work is prioritized or legitimized. 

The RFP process is not exclusive to the social sector, but it definitely has a particular flavor there. We heard from people on both the creating and receiving ends of the RFP system and it’s clear that they are aware of the foundational importance of this process in relation to equity. They have a lot to say about it! We wanted to share (in a loose and general way) some of these great ideas and resources with the rest of our community.

*Note that the Talking Data Equity sessions are never recorded or shared out afterwards as part of the intention in these sessions is to create an open space for exploration, frank discussion, and in the moment brainstorming with each participant setting their own level of comfort and anonymity.

These sessions are free to attend and the upcoming dates and times are here.

What would the process look like if the organizations putting out RFPs were responsible for convincing people to work with them, rather than the other way around?

Some great thoughts that were discussed: 

  • The organization writing the RFP could need to supply evidence of collaborating effectively with prior grantees.

  • The organization writing the RFP could be expected to demonstrate why they were setting the timeline and budget the way they are with clearly articulated purposes.

  • The organization writing the RFP could include metrics on their commitment to ensuring their practices of the partnership were inclusive, fair, and equitable. 

  • The organization writing the RFP could demonstrate cultural competency to provide services to or research on the intended “beneficiary community.”

  • They could include information about the demographics of the organization’s beneficiaries, board members, and staff members.

  • They could be transparent about the rubric and include evidence about why it is valid.

What is a thing you’ve done or seen done to improve the equity in crafting an RFP?

Some of the great ideas people offered:

  • Poll community foundations and intermediary organizations working in the region of interest to learn about strong organizations working at the grassroots level. Also, check community lists of Black and other minority-owned businesses. Think creatively about other ways to find out about nonprofits – talk to leaders in the communities of interest.

  • Consider eliminating the written grant application altogether, and possibly replace the process with site visits and conversations with the applicant organizations. A few funders do in-depth background research and due diligence on potential grantees and then simply notify them that they are receiving a grant award, without them applying formally or being involved in the due diligence process.

  • Build or engage a Community Review Board (something like an Institutional Review Board but made up of members of the impacted communities)

  • Create mechanisms for accountability for authentic engagement between community and researchers. 

  • Have a panel of community members and/or people with lived experience on what you’re researching choose the winning proposals.

  • Run readability tests on all RFP language before publication, with the goal of using language that is no higher than an eighth-grade reading level. Such tests help remove jargon and improve comprehension by professionals outside of public health as well as by non-native English speakers.

  • Clearly outline in your RFP requirements for data and knowledge ownership that remains in the community being researched. 

  • Ask that your proposals be submitted with letters of support from the community that is going to be contributing data.

  • Ensure that your RFP actually funds research that community organizations want, need, and are able to lead. Fund research that informs action on root causes. 

Some great resources that were shared:

Walk Softly and Listen Carefully: Building Research Relationships with Tribal Communities (From the NCAI Policy Research Center and MSU Center for Native Health Partnerships)


Contracting for Equity Best Local Government Practices that Advance Racial Equity in Government Contracting and Procurement (From the Insight Center for Community Economic Development)


The Investigaytors