RFPs Reviewed: Open data opportunities for Cleveland City Council

It was exciting to read on Twitter that Cleveland City Council issued such a request for professional services last month. You can read and download it here. Proposals are due by 4pm on Tuesday, June 30, 2015.

Additionally, the Council’s website indicates that there’s an open RFP for software solutions and professional services for a City Council Legislative Management System (LMS). It’s dated May 14, 2015 and its due date is a week from today, Thursday, June 11, 2015 by 4pm. You can read and download that RFP from here.

Both proposal requests are extensive and specific. They also clearly state that all proposals submitted in response to the RFP are public records, meaning, we can see what vendors are saying they’ll do and how much they’ll charge for doing it, if we ask.

How do they measure up when looking through the lens of open and public government? There are numerous “best practices” for municipal websites. One collection of such information can be found at the Municipal Research and Services Center in Washington State. Their Best Practices in Local Government page is a good place to start.

I also served as the chair of a committee that oversaw the overhaul of a small city’s website and base the following observations on that experience, among others.

The LMS request details system requirements it deems “mandatory requirements” across five pages. Included in that section is a heading titled, “Public Access” and it contains more than 15 specific items. In addition, other sections, within this “mandatory requirements” section also reference public access as elemental to the solution defined. The LMS request also includes a “Future Requirements” section and then a six-page check-off list section titled, “Other Requirements Checklist/Description” which is more open-ended, but also very detailed. And, of course, prospective vendors can always ask questions, but the RFP is a very good start.

Finally, it’s last page includes this statement:

Cleveland City Council’s network strategy revolves around simplicity as well as security. City Council’s future goals should include both electronic voting and a real time public view of the legislative management process. The public should be able to view the legislative management process via all major computing platforms.

So although my dream muni world includes RFPs that directly reference “civic enagement” and “open data,” describing a system that is certain to enable both is good too.

As for the website RFP, it focuses on procuring professional services. It’s a simpler ask in many ways (a re-design and refresh with near turnkey ability to be used by the administrators as opposed to the LMS which must perform much more complicated tasks) but includes enough detail to cover look, feel and content. Something called a “creative brief” is used by most vendors who would go after this RFP and additional detail would be fleshed out in such a document.

The absolute best part of the Council’s website RFP, from an open data and civic engagement perspective, is in its Website Strategy Overview, stated on page 9 (bolding added):

Website Strategy Overview
The website establishes the brand of Cleveland City Council. The citizens of Cleveland are the primary audience and the site must present information in language that provides clear and concise information to constituents. It is one of the primary sources of information for constituents regarding the work of the Council, as well as access to the various services of the City of Cleveland and Council.
Secondary audiences for the website are the news media and policy makers, City of Cleveland staff and Cleveland City Council members and staff.
Simply stated there are four core operating principles:
1. The Website exists for the public
2. It must have ease of use and access to information
3. It must provide transparency into the work of Council
4. There must be a consistency/uniformity across the various sections of the website

Now, the vendor I’d be hoping is out there is the one who takes this overview at face value and runs with it. Hard.

Maybe you’re that vendor or know such a vendor. God-willing, the Council members and admins who review the submissions will know the best submissions when they see it and will also recognize if they haven’t gotten what they’ve asked for, from anyone. That can happen too, and they should not settle.

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