A (rough) guide to preparing a tender process

Pitt Rivers Museum

Read our quick guide on how to develop a tender or commissioning process for projects. Please note that it is by no means a definitive guide - your process will depend on the scope and size of your project. We hope you find it useful!

When to go out to tender
  • Going out to tender ensures the process is equitable and cost-effective, but could be bypassed if there is an obvious choice of supplier, or because the project budget is too small to warrant it.
  • The tender process should be as flexible and ‘supplier-friendly’ as possible by encouraging discussion of the issues before submissions are prepared.
  • Even if the project does not involve a tender process, a brief should still be issued to, and a proposal requested from, the provider.
Developing a brief or Invitation to tender (ITT)
  • Ensure clear objectives from the outset and keep them high level to allow for room to bend and be creative.
  • Only specify research methodologies if required; otherwise allow suppliers to advise about methods.
  • But do give some general yardstick of scale or budget where possible (see our rough guide to setting project budgets).
  • Key considerations for the project (share with providers if appropriate):
    • how it will be managed and run
    • resource needed (appropriate to size of problem)
    • is the work realistic in terms of budget?
    • will you be able to use the results?
    • constraints or difficulties the project is likely to encounter
    • ethics and equity
    • safeguarding
    • open to subcontracting?
  • To ensure an inclusive approach to commissioning, it may be more equitable to ask for less written information at proposal stage and to instead ask questions in a shortlisting phone call or at interview stage.
Tender process
  • Make it clear how the tender process will work, and what is required from suppliers.
  • Provide suppliers with a named contact who they can approach for further information.
  • Advertise the ITT through your website, networks, social media, sector bodies, funded organisations, LinkedIn etc.
  • Esmée can also share ITTs for Funding Plus support from organisations we fund on our website.
Time scales
  • Allow a reasonable time for proposals to be developed and discussed: ideally 2-3 weeks for fairly small and straightforward projects, 4-6 weeks for large or complex ones.
Informing suppliers
  • Clarify the rules, timescale, and evaluation criteria for the tender.
  • Acknowledge received bids.
  • Inform both successful and unsuccessful suppliers as soon as possible.
  • Give feedback on the quality of submissions and provide unsuccessful suppliers with specific reasons why they did not win.
Choosing suppliers
  • Shortlisting should ideally involve scoring all received bids against the specified criteria. Depending on the number of bids, you may want to invite other people (partners, research end-users) to support this process / double score, depending on the focus of the work.
  • More than one person should be involved in shortlisting and interviews to reduce bias and ensure a range of opinions / knowledge / external perspective etc.
  • The next stage might be a formal interview or informal chat over the phone. Decide what’s appropriate for your project and is manageable given your time and resource.
  • Ask that the key people who will be working on the project attend the interview.
  • Try and hold all interviews on the same day, or very close together to ensure equal interview conditions and to speed up the commissioning process.
  • Always ask for referees, peer reviews and/or references.
Offers and contract
  • Confirm the role you want suppliers to play, and the relationship you would like to have with them. Do you want to be involved in the supplier’s work and if so, how far?
  • Define the payment terms.
  • Draft the contract / agreement schedule drawing on the ITT and the proposal. It should clearly spell out what is to be done, the agreed time and cost framework, and relationships and mutual responsibilities between your organisation and the supplier.
  • Agreements should be flexible enough to allow for sensible and mutually agreed modifications to specification.
  • Agree the contract / agreement with the supplier and get it signed!
Reporting and publication

This is only required if it is for an outcome of the project...

  • Clarify if there are any specific reporting requirements (including format and style).
  • Clarify researchers’ right of vetting the way in which findings are publicised.
  • Confirm whether results are to be published or otherwise disseminated – where and by whom (if not Esmée)?
Intellectual property

This is only if relevant...

  • Discuss issues affecting the ownership of ideas and content with suppliers.
  • Clarify use and agree ownership of ideas, data and methods in advance as far as possible.
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