Questions? Feedback? powered by Olark live chat software

Selecting the right consultant: Evaluating proposals

Occasionally, clients will reach out to us with an ask. Through our platform, they have sourced proposals from several similarly well-qualified consultants, and they are having a hard time deciding between the options. Do we have any guidance for them on selecting the right consultant?

Some quick context on Catalyst:Ed for those of you who are unfamiliar with our work: We are a technology-enabled service that matches schools, school systems and education nonprofits with vetted consultants for short-term, mission-critical needs. This two-part blog post is our effort to crystallize some of the we've lessons learned so far into two key strategies for education leaders looking to select consultants. Part 1 (below) focuses on the evaluation scorecard. In Part 2, we will share our interviewing toolkit. Each of these strategies is based on not just our experience helping almost a hundred education organizations match up with expert consultants, but also our individual experiences as education leaders and consultants.

What's an evaluation scorecard?

The evaluation scorecard is a simple matrix that helps you keep track of how each consultant lines up on the selection criteria that mater the most to you. There are some similarities with the evaluation scorecards that many education leaders use when hiring full-time staff. For instance, you will want to evaluate consultants' qualifications as demonstrated by previous accomplishments. However, there are some dissimilarities as well. In particular, you will want to check for criteria - such as the proposed approach and budget - that are especially relevant for project-based work.

Our evaluation scorecard had humble beginnings. When we first launched our services, we relied on Google Drive to share consultant profiles and project proposals with clients. The earliest version of the evaluation scorecard was just a simple summary table with the names of interested consultants along with their locations, budgets and a checklist with a yes/no response to whether they met key selection criteria. Once we had a technology platform, we eliminated the summary table, since the information was relatively easy to access. Much to our surprise, our clients missed it. Some of them even re-purposed the summary table into an evaluation scorecard to help them score consultants and their proposals. We knew it was time to bring it back - but this time, we would expressly structure it as an evaluation scorecard.

Determining the evaluation criteria in your scorecard

We've put together a simple evaluation scorecard template that you can use and tailor to meet the needs of your project. To download our template, click the button to the right.

Our evaluation scorecard includes some specific criteria that we've found to be especially relevant to project-based work. Consider it a starter template - you'll want to make it your own by determining which of the criteria to include in your scorecard. How do you decide which criteria to include? Ideally, your selection criteria should flow directly from your project scope. This is one of the reasons why at Catalyst:Ed, we invest time upfront developing clear and detailed project scopes for our clients that outline the why (the problem and definition of success), what (key activities and deliverables) and who (must-have and nice-to-have consultant qualifications) of the project.

Below, we provide additional detail on our included criteria and some of the factors that we encourage our clients to consider as they score consultants. Note that we do not recommend that you include all of these in the scorecard. Instead, pick and choose the ones that are most relevant to your project.

Consultant qualifications:

  • Domain area expertise: Has the consultant worked on similar projects before? Is the consultant's work on these projects directly relevant to the work required on your project? If work samples were provided, do they match with your expectations?
  • Consulting experience: Has the consultant advised other similar organizations before? If not, is there evidence suggesting that the consultant can be successful advising your organization? For newly minted consultants who may bring strong domain expertise, is there evidence they can transfer their expertise to new unfamiliar contexts?
  • Other project-relevant competencies: Does the consultant demonstrate other competencies critical to the success of the project (e.g., strong project management skills, written communication skills, existing networks/relationships, etc.)?
  • Bandwidth: Does the consultant have the capacity to engage in this work in the manner that it requires? How much time are they willing to dedicate to your project? What else do they have going on right now? Can they work within your deadlines and time constraints?

Proposed Approach:

  • Structure: Does the proposal include all the information you requested?
  • Content: Does the proposal present the right combination of vision and detail? Are the specific activities, deliverables and timeline aligned with your expectations and do they seem feasible? Does the proposal include any new ideas that you hadn't considered before?
  • Presentation: Has the consultant clearly and compellingly described how they will accomplish the work set out in the project? Do the writing and the overall presentation reflect the consultant's comfort and expertise in the project area?

Budget:

  • Price: Is the budget within your desired range? How does it compare to budgets proposed by other consultants? If it's more expensive, what does the additional money get you? Has the consultant provided adequate detail on how the budget was arrived at? Are all significant incidental expenses (e.g., travel) accounted for?
  • Structure: Is the proposed budget structure (fixed price or hourly) aligned to your own requirements?

Other criteria: This category of odds-and-ends captures other criteria that, depending on the specific project, might be helpful for you to consider:

  • Location: More relevant for projects where significant in-person work is required.
  • Prior experience with your organization: Relevant in cases where having organization context and prior relationships within the organization is important to the success of the project.
  • Brand: Relevant in certain kinds of high-profile projects where the involvement of a high-profile consultant or consulting firm can add to the credibility of the project.
  • Cultural fit: Relevant in projects where the consultant needs to engage deeply with the team.
  • Alignment with other organizational goals and values: Examples might include mission-alignment, increasing diversity or promoting local/small businesses.

Using the evaluation scorecard

Tab 2 of our downloadable worksheet (accessible at the bottom of this post) is a sample annotated and filled-in scorecard to illustrate how it works in practice. You will want to fill out the matrix for each consultant along each criterion in your scorecard. The "Notes" section is a place for you to jot down any thoughts, concerns or follow-up questions.

Finally, we leave you with some FAQs:

Can we use this scorecard to evaluate consultant teams? Absolutely. If there are multiple people involved, we recommend that you score them on the experience and expertise they bring collectively.

Do we need to have a detailed scoring rubric as well? Only if you want to. While a detailed scoring rubric might be helpful, developing one takes time. For the purposes of selecting consultants, we've found that even a basic scorecard with a "yes/no" scale helps clients narrow down the consultant pool in a systematic way.

Do we have to use the evaluation scorecard to evaluate consultants? It's entirely up to you. The scorecard is fundamentally just a tool to help you through selection. But here's what we've found: when clients go about the selection process in a systematic way, they are more likely to critically review proposals, ask the right questions during the interview process and identify relevant trade-offs. They are also more likely to be comfortable about their eventual selection and - research shows - less likely to yield to their unconscious biases.

What happens next? Once you've reviewed each candidate's resume, proposal and relevant work samples and evaluated them against your decision matrix, you should be able to identify your top 3 to interview.

We've put together a simple evaluation scorecard template that you can use and tailor to meet the needs of your project. To download our template, click the button to the right.


Coming up in Part 2: How to use interviews as a complement to your evaluation scorecard..

Want to get alerted when we post new entries to our blog? Sign up for updates here.

If you have thoughts on how to improve this scorecard, we'd love to hear from you. Email us at info@catalyst-ed.org or add your thoughts to "comments" below.