At the end of a wild year, we hope our perspective breaks open a seed of change. Come, journey with us.

Same same, but different. 

Issue Nº 5, May 2021
Hello fellow people!

Over the last six months we’ve chosen to show up differently. Instead of accepting all terms of an RFP or performing most of an evaluation design before contract or bidding on something that isn’t properly resourced, we have noticed and nudged; we’ve been asking for what we need and being honest about timelines, level of effort, and appropriate resourcing. And you know what? It’s working!

We have noticed a delightful trend that includes influencing contracts, helping institutions override one-size-fits all policies, and arriving at properly resourced projects that set-up an equitable and fruitful working relationship.

In an industry where the primary funder (ahem, federal government) is not exactly built for hearing from, contracting with, or otherwise engaging micro- and small-businesses, it is easy to spend most of your time as a business owner trying to meet requirements that weren’t built for you. Procurement of our transdisciplinary services (strategy, design, evaluation—and, communications, facilitation, etc.) can be tricky and we easily get caught in a web of policies and procedures that ultimately limit the work we can do and lead to structured contracts that leave us under-valued and working timelines that harm the results.

And yet, we can choose how and when to participate, communicating clearly our needs for the value we offer.

Hit reply, we’d love to hear from you!

With so much gratitude, 

Anna & Katrina  

Why is it important that we speak up?

It is ethical practice. As professionals we are bound to uphold the practices of our field, which includes properly bidding and resourcing our work, and never undercutting or underbidding. Not only does under-resourcing work negatively impact the field, perpetuating a race-to-the bottom and devaluation of our fellow practitioners, but it also devalues the work itself, starving it of the resources it needs to fulfill what was imagined when the initial request was shaped.

It is also one step in decolonizing our work. Recognizing that the design work that goes into a full proposal is valuable intellectual work, properly resourcing the work, developing work plans and timelines that leave us whole, and valuing the expertise we bring are all part of the healing and shaping needed to seed and grow work that centers people and nourishes us.
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

What does this look like in practice?

  • A note to an offeror about why we are not bidding on a project, but that we are interested in the work.
This note details the expertise they are asking for, the steps involved in doing their work and why we cannot offer that in the LoE that has been specified. It also invites them to reach out should their budget or needs change. Often, the misalignment has more to do with inexperience in procurement and a blindness to the skills or actions required for the impact they seek. Education can go a long way. We’ve seen the budget adjusted to twice the original on a re-released RFP and been personally invited to apply. Success!
  • No work before a contract is in place, including inception, design and work planning.
We are beginning to articulate with potential clients, during the interview phase, that a large portion of our skill and value is wrapped up in a customized design that is created in relationship with a client. Process is so very important, and making a process (whether for making something new or evaluating or crafting strategy) often represents $10,000 or more of work. It is not equitable to be asked to work for free or to give away our years of experience and expertise without a contract.
  • Preparing two bids. One at the current size. One that scopes what is possible and meets their needs.
Because procurement focuses on knowing a solution ahead of time, rather than on engaging people for running a process, we run into rather small thinking that limits what is possible. In many cases, we can produce what is asked for, but hear a much deeper need that a client is seeking to fulfill. When we respond with both the limited scope requested and the scope that we hear in the deeper need, we are able to equip the client to go find the appropriate resources for their project by talking with them about the larger scope and process that is possible and what that would look like. We have been pleasantly surprised by clients shopping a larger scope to their funder and by funders being excited by the opportunity.
  • Negotiation during contracting.
Once there is a good match between our team and a client project and team we still have to make sure we can offer the value they are seeking on the given timeline and budget. It is not uncommon that after interviews and an initial meeting, we uncover additional needs, a root problem, or desired outcomes that take much more effort and time to meet. Time for a hard conversation. It is our job as experts of process and the transdisciplines of design and evaluation to reflect back to clients what we can and cannot realistically deliver with the resources at hand. Telling them they can have a Tesla on a Honda budget is not fair to them or us. It also maintains industry status quo of underresourcing learning, adaptation and design.

Fertile Ground/Seeds

Here are some fun, thought-provoking, engaging, and otherwise beautiful stepping stones we passed by this month. What might this plant in your life?
  • The Finding our Way podcast with Prentis Hemphill, a somatic practitioner, writer, and conflict facilitator. Her line-up of interviews is mouth-watering and her question of “Where are we in this moment?” is endlessly nourishing.
  • An invitation to lead by questioning, and a brief table articulating questions that are complex-aware and lean into living systems’ principles. Immediately easy to put to use.
  • The power of questions are undeniable, specifically for social change. Lovely articulation of all the reasons I (Anna) am so in love with being a Director of Inquiry.
  • Internalized capitalism, oof. We are guilty of valuing ourselves for our production only. This well-articulated conundrum can pack a punch.
  • Provocative reflection on the American (Western?) cognitive bias toward “natural” things and the implications therein. Love when someone can call out biases so we can stop resisting. Knowing the biases lets us work the quirks we have as humans.
“To encourage or even allow questioning is to cede power."
- Warren Berger
Picture Impact is a women-owned small business.
December 2020. All rights reserved.

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