Equitable Procurement: Walking the Talk

By Courtney Kashima, AICP, Founding Principal

The Chicago Park District recently announced the award of the Washington Park Framework Plan to a team led by our firm. This was made possible in part by a policy decision by the Park District to issue recent RFPs to Target Market firms (certified as an M/WBE). This is a great example of “walking the talk” when it comes to equity and inclusion and has had a noticeable impact on business as usual.  

As a growing firm, we believe that prioritizing Target Market firms is just one piece of equitable procurement practices. Smaller and newer firms, particularly those that qualify as “disadvantaged”, benefit from increased transparency throughout the procurement process. We are also more likely to team with peer W/M/DBE firms, expanding access to contracts for a wider pool of firms. 

Other tips for equitable procurement: 

Issue RFQs instead of RFPs  
Find the best fit for your organization and your project and then negotiate a scope with that team. RFPs encourage a guessing game that may not be beneficial to either side. The scope isn’t usually the critical part in planning projects – it’s assembling the best team through a qualifications-based process. Welcome new players to the game by approaching projects differently. 

And then… 

      • Hire for potential, not just experience
        If you want the team that’s done it 100 times and you want a process that’s been recycled 100 times, then go with the usual suspects. If you’re ready for fresh ideas and you have stated a commitment to diversity and inclusion, take into consideration a firm’s potential. This can be discovered through the interview process and/or reference checks.  
      • Include the budget 
        It’s really that simple— include the budget or range in your requests. Many agencies fear this will reveal too much or are dismayed when every proposal comes back close to the stated number, but it saves everyone the guesswork and lets firms make informed decisions about whether a project is the right fit. 
      • Provide a debrief 
        Taking some time for feedback for consultants who weren’t selected helps to strengthen the industry overall. A firm or team may be left wondering if it was because of a typo or if they missed the mark completely on scope or budget. A quick email, phone call, or meeting to review why you didn’t select the consultant allows everyone to grow and improve from debriefing.
      • Revisit your requirements 
        Does every form have to be notarized? Are those insurance requirements really necessary? There may be hidden barriers lurking in the most straightforward of asks. Take a survey of past projects, underwriters, or your pool of consultants to audit your standard requirements to uncover any undue burdens that disproportionately affect small and emerging firms.  
      • Pay more quickly  
        Newer and smaller firms are more likely to operate on tight budgets. Emerging firms benefit from a healthy cash flow, decrease reliance on credit and loans, and ensure hard-working staff and their families have financial stability. Clarifying invoice requirements and terms upfront and seeking approvals for invoicing in a timely manner is a great way to support firms. 
      • Acknowledge the wins  
        If a firm or team was helpful to you, let others know. Offer to be a reference or tag them in your social media posts celebrating the completion of a project – these are small gestures that can have a big impact.

Equitable procurement practices lead to better results for everyone involved: the procuring department, the local planning and small business ecosystem, and the stakeholders and community members who will be impacted by the plans and projects. We’re grateful to the Chicago Park District for this bold move and look forward to seeing other municipal departments and agencies across the region follow suit.